There have been renewed calls for the confirmation of President Bush’s controversial Federal Election Commission (FEC) nominee Hans von Spakovsky following Monday’s Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s harsh voter identification law. Editorials in both the Wall Street Journal and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggest that the Supreme Court’s decision validates Mr. von Spakovsky’s restrictive views on voting rights and discredits Democratic objections to his nomination. This seems a peculiar conclusion to draw considering that Mr. von Spakovsky had no connection to the case whatsoever – other than serving as commentator for the conservative Heritage Foundation.
First, it’s important to point out that just because the Supreme Court says that requiring voters to have state-issued photo identification cards (with expiration dates) is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s right. Conservatives argue that laws like this are meant to protect against voter fraud. But the truth is that their efforts provide a solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist. Instead, these voter ID requirements risk disenfranchising thousands of voters, disproportionately affecting racial minorities, the poor, the elderly, and the disabled - all of whom are less likely to have drivers’ licenses. Conveniently though, these groups also tend to vote Democratic – a consequence conservative legislators certainly considered before passing these laws.
But the Court’s decision in this case has no bearing on Mr. von Spakovsky’s suitability to serve as FEC commissioner. Senate Democrats opposed his nomination, not because of his support for voter identification laws, but because of his management of the Voting Rights Section at the Justice Department. This section, which is responsible for enforcing the Voting Rights Act, has historically focused on ensuring that local authorities did not impede minorities from participating in the electoral process. Under Mr. von Spakovsky however, it shifted priorities from protecting voters’ rights to rooting out so-called cases of voter fraud. This transition in focus is one of the problems that led to many of the allegations of politicization at the Justice Department.
As we said in an earlier post regarding Mr. von Spakovsky’s lack of concern for voters’ rights, “The Bush administration has repeatedly nominated people for high-level positions who are hostile to voters’ rights – first to the judiciary, then to the Justice Department and now to the Federal Election Commission. The Senate should have the courage to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”