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SCOTUS Rules to Protect Whistleblowing, yet Whistleblowers Aren’t Safe

The court rules that testimony is protected from job retaliation — but retaliation from the state is as intimidating as ever.

by Natasha Lennard
Jun 19 2014, 8:30pm

Photo by Matt Wade

The Supreme Court today ruled, unanimously, in favor of whistleblowers. The decision certifies that public employees testifying in court about official corruption receive the same First Amendment protections as all American citizens.

The case in question involved the firing of Edward Lane, a former Alabama Community College official, after he testified in the corruption trial of a state lawmaker. Lane should have been protected, the court ruled, because even though his testimony included facts learned at work, it was constitutionally protected as Lane offered it up as a citizen and it served the public interest.

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The ruling seems to run counter to the current government line on whistleblowing. Chelsea Manning has begun her 35-year prison sentence and Edward Snowden is a fugitive facing Espionage Act charges... both for blowing the whistle. They released information profoundly in the public interest, revealing military atrocities and the terrifying scope of government spy craft.

The difference, of course, lies in the channels. The Supreme Court’s decision tells us about the government monopoly on truth. It is only when offered as court testimony that public-interest revelations receive state protections — which, of course, means that there is no such thing as public interest “per se,” but rather public interest as and when the authorities deem it so. It is not the purview of the public at all.

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As such, the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of whistleblowing is not out of keeping with what Department of Justice whistleblower and attorney Jesselyn Radack has called this government’s “war on information.” Whistleblowing, we are told, is well and good. But there’s no open season on the truth; the state will determine that.The Supreme Court may have ruled to protect whistleblowers from job retaliation. State retaliation remains unbounded.

Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter:@natashalennard

Image via Flickr