Christina Wells believes that when government officials improperly withhold information from the citizenry, those officials -- whether in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department or elsewhere -- should be held accountable. Unlike so many other scholars studying freedom of information laws, regulations and executive orders, Wells, a professor of law at MU, minces no words in saying so.
White House actions with respect to secrecy are of great concern, Wells says. "Numerous commentators have noted that the Bush administration's 'penchant for secrecy' exceeds any past administration's. Far more information, including routine material, has been withheld from public disclosure out of 'national security' concerns."
President Bush's secrecy makes it especially difficult to assess his administration's intelligence-gathering activities, Wells says, "a power historically subject to abuse." Titles from two of Wells' most recent research papers also suggest her plain speaking: "Information Controls in Times of Crisis: The Tools of Repression," in the Ohio Northern University Law Review, and "Questioning Deference," just published in the Missouri Law Review. Add to these " 'National Security' Information and the Freedom of Information Act," a title in which the single quotation marks around the phrase "national security" speak volumes. Wells, whose complete title is Enoch N. Crowder Professor of Law, notes in the paper, published by American University's Administrative Law Review, that "all executive administrations have been subject to the creep of secrecy."
"I focus primarily on the Bush administration," she continues, "because of its currency, because secrecy has been an integral aspect of its operations, and because many of its attempts at secrecy have been formalized in law."
Geoffrey R. Stone, professor of law at the University of Chicago, taught Wells there. Now he cites her scholarship in his own books. His 2004 book Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (W.W. Norton) received superb reviews and reached best-seller lists.
"Christina Wells is one of the nation's most interesting young scholars [she is currently 40] working on the First Amendment," Stone said in an interview for this story. "She has brought a vital interdisciplinary perspective to her research and has offered fresh and important insights about the nature of courts and of constitutional law in times of national crisis."