Hans von Spakovsky, President Bush's nominee for the Federal Election Commission, tried to win the Senate's sympathies Wednesday by presenting himself as a poster boy for American democracy. "I grew up listening to stories of what it's like to live under a dictatorship," said the nominee, the child of Nazi refugees, at a Senate hearing. "This nomination is not a reflection of me, but a reflection of what a great country this is."
But Democratic members of the Rules and Administration Committee didn't appear to be buying it. Spakovsky is a former Republican Party chairman and election supervisor from Fulton County, Ga., and a former lawyer from the Justice Department's troubled Civil Rights Division. He is most well known for pushing a controversial voter photo identification law in Georgia, despite being told by civil rights groups and government attorneys that the law would suppress minority voters. He is also thought to have been strongly influential in the Justice Department's decision to approve a 2003 redistricting plan in Texas that the Supreme Court later ruled was a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
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Wednesday morning, the committee received a second letter from civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and four other members of the Georgia congressional delegation. "In our opinion," Lewis wrote in the letter, "the track record on voting suppression of one of the nominees, Mr. Hans von Spakovsky, could potentially turn back the clock on fifty years of progress."
Today, a visibly agitated Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., questioned von Spakovsky on his support for four different election and redistricting proposals that were later proved by courts to have suppressed the minority vote.
When pressed to explain his actions at the Justice Department, von Spakovsky was mostly nonresponsive. "That is privileged information," he said in response to more than one question. When asked about conversations he had with colleagues that would indicate he supported a Republican agenda, von Spakovsky replied, "I do not recall."
"Your memory has failed you," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "We've seen that this is an affliction that many in the Department of Justice suffer from."
Despite their tough words, committee Democrats have not yet announced how they will vote on the nomination. Feinstein gave von Spakovsky until June 20 to rebut the letter written by his former colleagues, whom von Spakovsky has accused of having "a certain political agenda.b