Who the heck is Sheldon T. Bradshaw?

Well, for one thing, he's the political appointee who overruled the Justice Department's Civil Rights staff and allowed redistricting to go forward in Texas in 2004. For another thing, he's currently the political appointee charged with insuring that the FDA doesn't get in the way of the corporations the agency supposedly regulates.

But why did he have a say in the matter of Texas' redistricting? At Justice his title was Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Which is to say that he was the deputy of Alexander Acosta, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Normally, it would fall to Acosta to decide to ignore the considered legal advice of his staff, but he had recused himself in this case. I'm not sure why. For what it's worth, Acosta now has pretty much the same job as Patrick Fitzgerald, but in Florida.

But back to Sheldon T. Bradshaw. He's a nobody, an apparatchik, a hack. Here's my question: What sense does it make to have someone like Acosta recuse himself? Did we really get a better shot at impartiality by having the buck stop at Bradshaw?

The stereotypical recusal explanation soundbite goes, "I ____________ have recused myself from this case in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest." What we're supposed to take from that, I suppose, is that the recusee would (of course!) rule impartially in the case, but that he has recused himself just so all of the parties can feel assured that everything is above board.

Except that sometimes what recusal accomplishes is a little different. In the Texas redistricting case there is, of course, conflict of interest. A political appointee at Justice overruled his staff in order to give a political windfall to his party. Acosta's recusal avoided the appearance of impropriety. But, you know, where there's not smoke, there's sometimes fire.

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