CLC v. DOJ (Pence-Kobach Commission)

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At a Glance

CLC is suing to obtain the redacted names from the FOIA over the Pence-Kobach Commission.

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About this Case

In August 2017, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) received a series of documents in response to a FOIA request regarding the Pence-Kobach Commission.

This response contained one particular email chain, which ended up in the private inbox of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, where a Heritage Foundation employee pushed back on naming a single Democrat to the Pence-Kobach Commission. In fact, he asked that no Democrats, academics, or moderate Republicans be appointed to the commission. The name of the person sending the email, those receiving it (besides the Attorney General), and the names of several people referenced were all redacted. The author of the email was later revealed to be Hans von Spakovsky. Subsequent to sending the email, von Spakovsky was appointed to the commission. On April 3, in response to our lawsuit, the Department of Justice finally unredacted some of the names in this email chain. In particular, they unredacted Hans von Spakovsky’s name from the email and the name of the individual who received the email and forwarded it to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Ed Haden. Ed Haden previously served as a top staffer for Attorney General Sessions when he was a Senator. He is now a partner with Balch & Bingham LLP. CLC will continue the suit to ensure full transparency and uncover all of the names in this document so that its importance and relevance can be fully understood. 

The clear precedent is that these emailers had no interest of privacy retained in their names because they were dealing with the government in their business capacities and, in any event, the significant public interest in knowing who exerts this sort of influence over high level administration officials making important staffing decisions outweighs any privacy considerations.

However, the other redacted names were never revealed. That is why CLC has taken the action of suing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to release this information to the public, who can be better prepared to defend against voter suppression if they know its source.

The public has a right to know who is influencing the operation of government commissions whose policy decisions could impact the access to their most sacred right, the right to vote. The Pence-Kobach Commission may no longer be holding meetings, but the mission of certain parties, including Mr. von Spakovsky, to attempt to suppress the vote continues.

DOJ should not be allowed to flout clear commands of the law. In this case, they selectively redacted names to protect the identities of certain parties who had influence over the process. On the other hand, they did not redact, in the same series of documents, a private citizen’s name who wrote to former Attorney General Lynch. DOJ cannot be allowed to flout the law in order to protect the identities of their political allies.

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