Whistleblowers need more protection, not a ruling that would make it harder for them to win lawsuits claiming retaliation for their actions.

The Supreme Court Wednesday heard arguments on the matter, which would cover the more than 20 million public employees. The case centers on a county prosecutor in California who says he was demoted and denied a promotion because he tried to bring to light a lie by a deputy on a search warrant. A lower court ruled in his favor.

The Bush administration argued that it should be harder for government workers to win such lawsuits. The government’s lawyer said workers who feel they have been punished for what they tried to expose can file a civil service complaint.

The attorney for the California prosecutor in question said about 100 such lawsuits are filed every year, and that public employees should not worry about being punished or fired if they speak out.

Of course that is true. This is an issue of First Amendment speech rights. The government should be working to offer whistleblowers more protection — not only from repercussions, but to tell the truth — not less. This would have a chilling effect on the way people react to government malfeasance.

Some justices, including Antonin Scalia, voiced concern that even office gossip could be repeated to reporters and considered free speech. While that is also true, it is much better in this instance to err on the side of openness than to clamp down on a government workers’ rights.

This country needs as transparent a government as possible. When people on the inside see wrongdoing, they must be encouraged to report it. That will ultimately make our government not only more clean and accountable, but also stronger.

If people who see wrongdoing are made less likely to report it, how will that improve anything?

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