For the past 18 months Hans von Spakovsky has served as a recess appointee on the Federal Election Commission. According to John Fund, his record there has been relatively free from controversy. Yesterday, however, von Spakovsky faced the wrath of Dianne Feinstein and other Senate Democrats during hearings on his nomination for a regular appointment to the FEC.
The Democratic ire stems from von Spakovsky’s time at the Bush Justice Department. He stands accused by “career staff” of undermining enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and using that law to favor Republican politicians in various locales.
As I’ve often pointed out, clashes between career government employees and “political” appointees are quite standard during Republican administrations. I normally don’t ascribe bad faith to either side of the resulting policy disputes, though it’s clear that the president’s people have the right to make the final call on policy matters within the bounds of the law.
After listening to a portion of the von Spakovsky hearings, however, it’s hard not to doubt the good faith of the career bureaucrats who are trying to prevent his confirmation. Fund’s piece and commentary from Roger Clegg and Edward Blum demonstrate that the positions the Justice Department took on the three main cases over which von Spakovsky is being attacked are well supported by the law, including the outcome of the cases in question.
Given this reality, the viciousness of the attack by some career Justice Department employees is indefensible. The ethically (and for purposes of this sort of hearing, intellectually) challenged Feinstein received a polite hammering from von Spakovsky when she tried to make use of these charges.
For example, the career bureaucrats were incensed when the Justice Department found that the Texas redistricting plan (which cost the Democrats a batch of seats, reversing the absurd arrangement under which the Dems, decidedly a minority in Texas, held a majority of the state’s seats in Congress) was not “retrogressive” from the standpoint of minority representation. The Justice Department was of the view that the number of “minority” congressional seats in Texas remained the same under the redistricting plan, so that the plan could not be retrogressive. According to von Spakovsky’s testimony, the career bureaucrats’ contention to the contrary flew in the face of a then-recent court decision which had opined on the existing number of minority seats in Texas. Moreover, the disgruntled career people wanted to deem one seat a minority one even though an African-American candidate for Congress had obtained a majority of the black vote in the district yet lost the election to a white Anglo.
In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the plan and found that only one of the 32 districts had been in violation of the Voting Rights Act. And that seat violated a totally different section of the act than the one the Justice Department had applied
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