“[T]he less checks you have on government, the more you will have government abuses. There is no greater truism than that.”
Robert Steinbuch, as reported in Senior Editor Mark Friedman’s Law column this week, was commenting specifically on recent state Supreme Court decisions that will have the effect of making it nigh-impossible for citizens to challenge illegal use of taxpayer money. But his words are true far more generally.
Just two weeks ago in this same space, we quoted the same Bowen School of Law professor (and conservative columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) on another effort to loosen checks on government: the failed (thankfully) effort to gut Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act, long recognized as one of the most robust in the country.
The citizen uprising against that attempt to make it harder, more expensive and more time-consuming for Arkansans to access fewer government records was a thing of beauty and an important reminder that the FOIA is a vital tool of citizenship for all of us.
Making it harder and more expensive to challenge illegal exaction is not going to inspire that kind of protest. It’s not something that people of all walks of life do, either routinely or occasionally, as so many of us make use of public records. But challenges to the use of tax dollars are not rare, and it’s not something that regular citizens can do effectively without enlisting the services of lawyers who now have to consider whether their client can afford the fight, win or lose.
This is only good news for government officials who won’t have to worry about being held accountable.