How dare you petition the government?

With a professor of constitutional law as president, one might have hoped for better than this. On the blog of the special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, he indicates that the White House will restrict the manner in which citizens can petition their government:

Section 3 of the Memorandum required all oral communications between federally registered lobbyists and government officials concerning Recovery Act policy to be disclosed on the Internet; barred registered lobbyists from having oral communications with government officials about specific Recovery Act projects or applications and instead required those communications to be in writing; and also required those written communications to be posted on the Internet. . .

Following OMB’s review, the Administration has decided to make a number of changes to the rules that we think make them even tougher on special interests and more focused on merits-based decision making.

First, we will expand the restriction on oral communications to cover all persons, not just federally registered lobbyists. For the first time, we will reach contacts not only by registered lobbyists but also by unregistered ones, as well as anyone else exerting influence on the process.

(Emphasis mine.) (Via Mark Tapscott, via Instapundit.)

Apparently, the White House intends to prohibit citizens from speaking to their government about the stimulus bill. Let’s never hear any more nonsense about the left and its concern for civil liberties.

ASIDE: It’s telling that an administration with very little regard for transparency (other than lip service galore) would suddenly see the light when the spectre of public comment rears its ugly head.

Beyond restricting the manner of public comment, the White House also wishes to restrict its content:

Second, we will focus the restriction on oral communications to target the scenario where concerns about merit-based decision-making are greatest –after competitive grant applications are submitted and before awards are made. Once such applications are on file, the competition should be strictly on the merits. To that end, comments (unless initiated by an agency official) must be in writing and will be posted on the Internet for every American to see.

(Emphasis mine.) Who could argue with limiting public discourse to the merits? Well, there’s the question of who determines merit in public discourse. The White House, presumably. But beyond that, the Constitution authorizes no such restriction anyway. If I want to criticize a project on some worthless grounds like astrology or numerology, that’s my right.

The best that can be said about this is their means (posting comments publicly) is unlikely to achieve their ends (restricting discourse). But look out for their future means.

(CREDIT: Title borrowed from ShopFloor.)

UPDATE (7/26): The policy has been reversed. (Via Instapundit.)

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