To Be or Not To Be A Fundamental Right

imagesThe U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether access to government-held information is a fundamental right for all who seek it, or whether access should be limited to those who are citizens within jurisdictions of the offices holding the information.  Could you feel the earth quake around the graves of the founding framers as oral arguments were heard this week in McBurney v. Young?

Justice Antonin Scalia suggested since the freedom of information access laws are only about 50 years old this signals something very short of a fundamental right.  Hmmm.  Where does one draw the line on this kind of reasoning?  Is 50 years too recent but 100 years makes it fundamental?  Maybe we should check in on suffrage amendments to constitutions, and maybe review the laws we now have for equal rights and non-discrimination.  Could be we didn’t really think these were fundamental but gracious add-ons that wouldn’t cost the government too much.

Access to government information for everyone — no home address required — came along with representative democracies.  Even the ancient Greeks got it.  Check out the history of government around the period of Lycurgus, 338-325 B.C.E. right up through the first session of the U.S. first Congress in 1789, Ch. 14.  Can there really be fundamental doubts in the 21st century?  Apparently so.

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