Do Not Vote for This Guy
He doesn't want Democrats to vote—unless it's to appoint him to the Federal Election Commission.
But let's say we chalk all that activism up to bad guesses. Say we concede that von Spakovsky wasn't actively trying to use laws intended to protect minority voters in order to disenfranchise them, but merely trying to stomp out an epidemic of vote fraud. The problem is that von Spakovsky was himself a party to creating the illusion of that epidemic. Such efforts included his anonymous 2005 law review article zealously endorsing voter ID laws like Georgia's, at the same time he was lobbying for the legality of the Georgia law. They also included his lamentable efforts to remove Tova Andrea Wang from the Election Assistance Commission—the entity charged with uncovering voter fraud that was unable to find much of it. Any way you look at it, the man wasn't merely itching to purge minorities from the voter rolls. He was also working behind the scenes—even as a commissioner of the FEC—to prop up the myth that vote fraud is a devastating problem, long after it had become increasingly clear that it was not.
But even that may not be the worst of it. Von Spakovsky's lasting—and perhaps most symbolic—contribution to the state of the Justice Department today is highlighted by one other extracurricular: his efforts to undermine Minnesota U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, who recently departed Justice on his own steam. As Tom Hamburger reported in the Los Angeles Times this summer, Heffelfinger became concerned when Minnesota's secretary of state directed that tribal ID cards could not be used for voter identification by Native Americans living off reservations. Heffelfinger wanted the Justice Department to investigate whether that directive might prove discriminatory. According to Joseph Rich, former head of the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division (who had served as a career lawyer there for 37 years before stepping down in 2005), it was Hans von Spakovsky who effectively shut down the DoJ investigation before it began.
Three months after expressing his concern over Native American vote suppression, Heffelfinger's name showed up on a 2004 list of U.S. attorneys to be fired and replaced. In her testimony before the Senate judiciary committee about the U.S. attorney firings, White House liaison Monica Goodling mumbled something about hearing Heffelfinger criticized for "spending an excessive amount of time" on Native American issues. Somehow, protecting the voting rights of minority voters had become antithetical to the mission of DoJ.
Senate Democrats are still claiming they want to get to the bottom of the scandal involving the politicization of the Justice Department. If that is the case, they cannot confirm someone responsible for that same politicization, when he was supposed to be protecting the right to vote. It's not an answer to claim—as we are now hearing—that some "deal" may have been struck that would allow a Democratic insider to be confirmed alongside him. To what end? The FEC is not the USA Today editorial page, matching partisan for partisan. Nor is it an answer to claim that the FEC is so toothless and impotent, that it doesn't matter who sits on it. If that is the case, congressional Democrats should hardly be invested in which left-leaning commissioner they can confirm alongside von Spakovsky.
More than almost anyone else—perhaps even including Alberto Gonzales—Hans von Spakovsky represents a Justice Department turned on its head for partisan purposes. Even if a seat on the FEC is merely symbolic, the last thing Democrats should be doing is confirming to that seat someone who symbolizes contempt for what it means to cast a vote.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Photograph of Hans von Spakovsky by Douglas Graham/Roll Call Photos.