The White House strategy of restraining officials and scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insisting that government communications about coronavirus be vetted and potentially censored, is likely relying on a Reagan-era legal opinion and may be putting lives in danger, according to Slate.
The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Department of Justice is responsible for defining the scope of presidential power for the executive branch.
Congress, in 1988, instructed the director of the CDC to send information about the AIDS virus to every household so that Americans could make decisions based on facts, not fear.
Reagan’s White House was assured by the OLC that denying the president final say over the dissemination of public health information was an “egregious” violation of the Constitution.
According to OLC, Congress “has no more right” to prevent the president from exercising his right to “supervise” the CDC’s decisions than “the President would have to preclude federal judges from reviewing draft opinions prepared by their clerks.”
As the coronavirus threat spreads throughout the U.S., the legal theory that supports presidential censorship power proves to be dangerous to public health.
Slate writes: “Until the White House and Justice Department make that commitment and disavow the censorship power, we the American people -- including Whtie House and Justice Department lawyers! -- will not be able to make the decisions necessary to protect ourselves and our families. And until we correct the underlying structural conditions that led Justice Department lawyers to invent and sustain concepts like the censorship power, we will likewise be ill-equipped to protect the fundamentals of our democracy.”