Taking the fifth even when you have nothing to hide

From a lawyer named Ken White at,  A few notes on Lois Lerner and the fifth amendment

“What Does She Have To Hide?”

I’ve been seeing a lot of comments to the effect of “why should Lois Lerner take the Fifth if she has nothing to hide?” Ironically these comments often come from people who profess to oppose expansive government power, and from people who accept the proposition that Lerner was part of wrongdoing in the first place — in other words, that there was a government conspiracy to target people with the machinery of the IRS for holding unpopular political views. Such people do not seem to grasp how their predicate assumptions answer their own question.

You take the Fifth because the government can’t be trusted. You take the Fifth because what the truth is, and what the government thinks the truth is, are two very different things. You take the Fifth because even if you didn’t do anything wrong your statements can be used as building blocks in dishonest, or malicious, or politically motivated prosecutions against you. You take the Fifth because if you answer questions truthfully the government may still decide you are lying and prosecute you for lying.

Pardon me: if you accept the proposition that the government targets organizations for IRS scrutiny because of their political views, and you still say things like “why take the Fifth if you have nothing to hide,” then you’re either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack.

What Mr. White is driving at is that the 5th Amendment is important to protect all of us from our government when it comes after us.  In order that we might continue to be assured of our own rights, we have to protect those rights even when they are asserted by someone who themselves [but in a different context] is part of the government machinery that is infringing upon our rights, much as that might be personally distasteful.


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