Leaking Information Is a Key Tenet of Democracy. Just Look at the Past | Opinion

The late congressman and civil rights pioneer John Lewis was renowned for his wise words that spanned an inspiring career. During the 2019 impeachment trial of Donald Trump, Lewis appealed for clarity and justice when he remarked; "When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something." With the recently leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court that aims to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Watergate scandal that plagued the Nixon administration, Lewis' words still hold relevance across a toxic political landscape.

The leaking of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's draft opinion on reversing a federal abortion ruling and allowing elected representatives to decide abortion rights represents a cataclysmic shift in U.S. society. Speculation abounds as to whether the whistleblower was a disgruntled law clerk working for a liberal justice, or one from the conservative majority as a foreshadow of what's ahead. A recent poll found that fewer than a third of Americans say they are in favor of reversing Roe v. Wade. It is clear prohibiting abortion is unpopular in the U.S., despite how some pro-life Republicans manipulate statistics by attempting to debase the whistleblower that leaked the draft ruling.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) blamed the leak on the left and the "unprecedented breach of confidentiality" that they used to intimidate the highest court. Meanwhile his colleague, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), likened it to a form of harassment toward the justices. This same tactic being deployed by the right was featured throughout the first impeachment trial of the disgraced former president. It's a craven act to expose the whistleblower to avoid the issue at hand, no matter if the issue in question is a vital matter of public interest.

The art of leaking, as recent events suggest, are integral to upholding American values when the upper echelons of power seek to denigrate them. The story of Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon's attorney general John Mitchell, is a case in point to why whistleblowing must be protected under American law at all costs. Her story is being recounted via a Starz miniseries that pays tribute to her whistleblowing efforts and pours scorn on those who treated her with contempt.

Mitchell offered the press a behind the palace walls glimpse into the goings-on in the White House, and her vivacious truth-telling was key to the unravelling of the Watergate scandal that consequently cost Nixon the presidency. Mitchell was drugged and kidnapped by her husband's coterie of sycophants for her role in trying to expose Nixon's unjust involvement in the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. She was tainted as mentally unfit by the White House in their bid to tarnish a critic ready to spill information on corruption at the highest level.

The Supreme Court building
The Supreme Court building is seen. David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Why must the nation of the free world, a purported bastion of democratic principle, hasten to launch a smear campaign against anyone who seeks to divulge the truth? There's been a smear campaign like no other against Wikileaks founder and thorn-in-the-side of American cover-ups, Julian Assange, for years. Assange is currently held in a maximum security prison in the U.K., awaiting his fate by the Home Office on whether he will be extradited to the U.S. over disclosure of national security information. Wikileaks uncovered numerous scandals committed by the American establishment, but it's the establishment that attempts to absolve itself by lamenting the website as treasonous.

Assange's willingness to reveal dark secrets emboldened other whistleblowers to follow suit. Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was responsible for releasing a tranche of classified materials by the U.S. military, which included videos of merciless airstrikes in Iraq and thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables. Manning was castigated by international governments, as was Edward Snowden for leaking to The Guardian documents on global surveillance programs headed by the National Security Agency. Both have become polarizing figures in world history where critics call them cowards, while others hail them as patriots.

The leak of the Supreme Court's draft opinion is the latest in a long line of events committed to uncovering the truth and subsequently holding those in power accountable. This leak is timely, with a milestone that marks a period of reflection for the whistleblowers at the center of the Watergate affair, particularly those like Mitchell who were routinely admonished. The leaker within the Supreme Court, alongside the art of whistleblowing itself, must be protected under democracy without question. Decisions are currently being made that will affect Americans for generations to come. If it wasn't for those who have the courage to blow the whistle, crimes committed by an increasingly autocratic America would continue to imperil the thriving democracy it claims to be.

Liam Barrett is a freelance politics and culture writer based in London. His Twitter is @LiamMBarrett.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.