SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
One of the principal architects of the GOP’s voter suppression campaign is an attorney from North Georgia named Hans von Spakovsky. The son of emigrants who fled Nazi oppression, Spakovsky seems to have taken to partisan politics at a very early age. His skills got national-level GOP attention, and he was appointed to head the Civil Rights Division for the Department of Justice in the Bush Administration. But the funny thing is that he can’t much remember what he did running the Division – although he’s confident that he didn’t make major decisions that were cast in the Division’s name. McClatchy reports:
Another former Justice Department lawyer went before Congress on Wednesday with few answers for his Democratic interrogators and a spotty memory. Hans von Spakovsky, who’s seeking a full six-year term on the Federal Election Commission, deflected questions about whether he undermined voting rights laws, saying, “I was not the decision maker in the front office of the Civil Rights Division.”
Time and again during his confirmation hearing, he cited either the attorney-client privilege or a cloudy memory for his purported role in restricting minorities’ voting rights. Von Spakovsky couldn’t remember blocking an investigation into complaints that a Minnesota Republican official was discriminating against Native American voters before the 2004 election.
Under oath, he also said he didn’t recall seeing data from the state of Georgia that would have undercut a push by senior officials within the Civil Rights Division to approve the state’s tough new law requiring photo IDs of all voters. The data showed that 300,000 Georgia voters lacked driver’s licenses. A federal judge later threw out the law as unconstitutional.
Of course, it might be that Spakovsky didn’t remember these things, notwithstanding that they’ve featured in newspaper accounts for the last month and that he’s been intently preparing for the hearing. Or it might be that he is engaged in deceit to avoid testifying on a subject matter which is at best embarrassing and at worst would reflect serious mismanagement of the Division he headed. In any event, however, he’s following a now well settled path trodden by his three bosses, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, and Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, each of whom also suffered from rather astonishing memory lapses about quite recent events.
The Georgia Democratic delegation in Congress issued a letter stating that Spakovsky’s confirmation could “turn back the clock on fifty years of progress” in the voting rights area. Read their letter here. His conduct at Justice demonstrated that these concerns are not frivolous.
Perhaps Mr. von Spakovsky should pay attention to the writings of another of the great figures of the German emigration from the thirties, Hannah Arendt. In her classic study of totalitarianism, Arendt noted that totalitarian and wannabe totalitarian regimes frequently wage wars overseas and use these wars to undermine and then destroy the essential institutions at home which obstruct totalitarian rule (see Quote for the Day). This is a vital warning for Americans in the age of Bush, and Mr. von Spakovsky is just what Arendt was talking about: a diligent termite boring away in the foundations of America’s democracy. The question for the Senate is now whether he will get license to do still more damage.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Amount that President Obama has added to America’s “brand value” according to the Nation Brands Index:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
A Utah woman named Cameo Crispi pleaded guilty to having drunkenly attempted to burn down her ex-boyfriend’s house by igniting bacon on his kitchen stove.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”