Newly released emails from President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, evidence an amicable relationship between the judge and National Review contributor and discredited conservative media legal analyst Hans von Spakovsky. The relationship is a sign that Gorsuch could continue Trump’s assault on civil rights from the high court.
According to emails released by the Senate Judiciary Committee, first reported on by The Nation’s Ari Berman, Gorsuch’s communications with or about von Spakovsky paint a picture of their friendly relationship. In 2005, Gorsuch wrote “Good for Hans” after then-President George W. Bush nominated von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission. In another email that year, Gorsuch praised von Spakovsky for participating in a Bush-era Justice Department conference on the election system at a time when “Though the Justice Department was supposed to investigate both voting discrimination and voter fraud, the latter cause took priority and eventually led to Republican US Attorneys’ being wrongly fired from their jobs for refusing to prosecute fraud cases," as explained by Berman.
As Berman wrote, “the emails suggest Gorsuch was friendly with von Spakovksy. But it’s far more disturbing if Gorsuch shares Von Spakovsky’s views on voting rights.” As Berman previously pointed out, Gorsuch’s “paper trail on civil-rights cases is slim,” and little is known about his views on voting rights. However, this relationship with von Spakovsky does nothing to reassure voting and civil rights advocates.
Von Spakovsky is one of the leading conservative media misinformers on voting rights, frequently hyping the false narrative that voter fraud is widespread. In November, von Spakovsky and his frequent partner, John Fund, rehashed discredited evidence to fearmonger about noncitizen voting in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The op-ed was published even though noncitizen voting is incredibly rare and studies that claim otherwise have been found to be flawed. Von Spakovsky has also erroneously suggested that double voting is not only a problem, but that it could be solved by strict voter ID laws. In 2012, von Spakovsky and Fund wrote a book filled with lies about voting rights.
Von Spakovsky has used these lies to relentlessly advocate for unnecessarily strict voter ID laws across the nation, which have been shown to systematically disenfranchise voters, especially voters of color. To promote these laws, von Spakovsky has hyped myths and misleading details, claiming that the laws don’t lead to voter disenfranchisement and that they actually speed up the voting process. Additionally, von Spakovsky has also praised blatantly illegal voter suppression tactics.
While von Spakovsky is often held up as a conservative expert on voting rights, his talking points are incredibly misleading and discredited, and his tactics are shady. His apparent disdain for civil rights and access to justice is supported by more than just his disregard for half a century of progressive voting rights jurisprudence. He has called the modern civil rights movement “indistinguishable” from “segregationists.” Von Spakovsky also has been a proponent of forced arbitration clauses, which are when an “employee or consumer is required to waive their right to sue, to participate in a class action lawsuit, or to appeal.” Forced arbitration is terrible for consumers, and according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, gives less consumers eligibility for financial redress than they would have through class-action settlements.
Gorsuch’s friendly emails to and about von Spakovsky should trigger alarms among those who are worried about voting rights and civil rights in general. If confirmed, Gorsuch would be ruling on many of these issues from the bench. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 68 bills have been introduced in 2017 alone to restrict access to the ballot in 27 states -- and Trump’s lies about the election and voter fraud are only paving the way for an even wider assault on voting rights. This is to say nothing of Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has a record of being incredibly hostile toward civil rights, even calling the Voting Rights Act “intrusive.” If Gorsuch’s correspondence with von Spakovsky is any hint, access to basic rights and liberties may only get worse.