Neil Gorsuch hasn’t written much about democracy issues. On money in politics, as Ciara Torres-Spelliscy has detailed for the Brennan Center, he’s made clear that, like most legal conservatives, he sees the right to make political contributions as closely akin to the right to speak, which is protected by the First Amendment. In other words, he’s likely to be supportive of decisions like Citizens United and others that loosened regulations on political money.
As for voting rights, we have even less to go on. But emails written by Gorsuch when he worked as a lawyer in the George W. Bush Justice Department may give democracy advocates pause. The emails were released to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it prepares for Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings, and reported by The Nation’s Ari Berman.
In one, written in 2005, Gorsuch responds to an email announcement that Hans von Spakovsky, another DoJ lawyer, has been nominated to the Federal Election Commission. “Good for Hans!” writes Gorsuch.
In another, written a few months earlier, von Spakovsky himself writes to a long list of Justice Department staff about an upcoming “Ballot Access and Voter Integrity Conference.” Gorsuch responds: “Sounds interesting. Glad you’re doing this. I may tray (sic) to attend some of it.”
So what’s the issue, here?
There may be no single figure who has done more over the last decade and a half to propagate the myth of widespread voter fraud and to build support for strict voting laws than von Spakovsky, a former Republican county chair in Georgia. Berman has the details, and here‘s a lengthy New Yorker profile.
Von Spakovsky’s nomination to the FEC was so controversial that Senate Democrats ultimately refused to confirm him, forcing President Bush to give him a recess appointment. And as Berman notes, the emails came at a time when the Bush Justice Department was moving systematically to prioritize “voter integrity”—that is, voter fraud—cases over voting access cases. Von Spakovsky was integral to that shift.
So, with the Supreme Court potentially poised to issue a major voting rights ruling relatively soon, it’s worrying that Gorsuch cheered von Spakovsky’s nomination and his involvement in the conference. Let’s hope senators can use Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings to illicit more detail about his views on voting and other democracy issues.