Voting Rights Fables: Biased New Book Give Us the Ballot Fuels Minority Fears

Another serious omission is Berman’s failure to discuss the controversies surrounding lawsuits brought during the George W. Bush administration against a black Mississippi Democratic official, Ike Brown, and against the New Black Panther Party. Those two VRA cases were the first -- and to date, the only -- cases ever brought by the DOJ against black Americans for discriminating against white voters and candidates.

In the Brown case, the district court found blatant discrimination by the black defendants, a ruling affirmed unanimously by the Fifth Circuit. In the New Black Panther case, government attorneys were on the verge of obtaining a default judgment against the Panthers for their intimidation and threats when Obama administration officials demanded that the case against three of four defendants be dismissed and that only limited relief be obtained against one defendant.

These cases and the ugly response to them by DOJ employees raised serious questions about the willingness of career attorneys and officials in the Obama administration to enforce the VRA in a racial-neutral manner, and whether they are only willing to enforce federal voting laws for the benefit of certain racial minorities.

At the request of Congress, the DOJ Inspector General did a lengthy investigation into this subject. This question lies at the very heart of the tensions between liberals and conservatives regarding voting rights enforcement, and is a subject that a serious book about voting rights enforcement would explore. Nevertheless, Berman ignores this controversy, presenting only criticism of the Bush administration by liberals working inside DOJ.

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Another major flaw is Mr. Berman’s biased treatment of two central players in the recent battles over voting laws: former DOJ lawyer (and frequent PJ Media contributor) Hans von Spakovsky, and Congressman and activist John Lewis.

Berman describes von Spakovsky as a horrible individual, claims his concern about voter fraud is an “obsession,” and accuses him of dishonesty for failing to recuse himself from working on a Voter ID case. However, neither the DOJ IG nor any state bar found that von Spakovsky ever acted unethically. Berman did not even interview von Spakovsky for the book. He clearly had predetermined his conclusion bereft of the facts.

Berman’s bias against von Spakovsky -- whose German and Russian parents suffered under both Nazism and Communism, and were World War II war refugees -- is best demonstrated by Berman’s sarcastic comment that von Spakovsky’s surname “sound[s] like a nineteenth-century Austrian villain’s” name.

What type of individual writes a book supposedly about the important subject of voting rights, and then makes vicious, mocking fun of someone’s family name?

I have known von Spakovsky for the last 14 years and worked with him from 2001 to 2005 at the DOJ. He is an honest and sincere person who firmly believes that unchecked voter fraud creates a real threat to democracy. He has authored a book and overseen a research project at the Heritage Foundation that has documented many instances of voting fraud prosecutions.

Leftists like Berman and their allies strongly dislike von Spakovsky because he is an extremely smart (MIT and Vanderbilt) lawyer who exposes the illogic underlying many of their positions on Voter ID and other issues. In attacking von Spakovsky, Berman has merely gotten in the liberal/left chorus line and kick-stepped with them.

When it comes to John Lewis, Berman’s treatment is quite different.

Lewis, of course, is the legendary civil rights leader who bravely endured beatings and jailing in the 1960s because of his demands for voting rights for black Americans. There is no doubt that those past activities established Lewis as an important fighter for American democracy. However, the fact that Lewis was right about Jim Crow and the need for federal voting rights legislation in the 1960s -- some half a century ago -- does not mean that his current views are necessarily correct. Berman does not bring objectivity to his evaluation of Lewis’s current pronouncements on the state of voting rights. Instead, Berman presents Lewis as a modern-day saint.

Unfortunately, many of the positions Lewis has adopted in the last 15 years do not accurately describe the current voting landscape. In fact, they appear to be exaggerations intended to convince people that current actions being taken by Republicans are akin to what was done in the 1960s -- primarily by Democrats.