TPM News

Legal experts and former administration officials from both parties said today the Supreme Court confirmation hearings have become far too circus-like and substance-free, resembling a law school exam cram session more than an important test of a nominee's judicial philosophy.

Panelists at an American Constitution Society for Law and Policy luncheon this afternoon differed on the right sort of justice, but agreed the televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearings have dramatically shifted the types of nominees presidents put forward. They predicted that Solicitor General Elena Kagan will give similar bland answers to those put forth last summer by Sonia Sotomayor and by John Roberts during the Bush presidency.

You know the scene: Senators who don't often get to speak freely on television give long-winded opening statements that don't leave the impression they haven't already made up their mind on how'll they vote on the nominee in question. Meanwhile, the nominees offer little to no insight into their own personal preferences, dazzling the group instead with their vast understanding of judicial precedent and saying all the right things, thanks in part to weeks of coaching from a White House war room.

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The most dramatic Birther stand of the Obama era is set to begin in earnest Friday when the military kicks off a preliminary hearing in the court martial of Birther Army Doctor Terrence Lakin. The process is likely to last several months and may well end with Lt. Col Lakin dismissed from the Army or even in jail, two military lawyers tell TPMmuckraker,

Lakin refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan earlier this year. He believes -- and said as much in a widely viewed YouTube video in March -- that Obama is not legitimately president, and that therefore all military orders are invalid. He faces charges of missing movement and not obeying orders.

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It may be hundreds of miles away from the site of the still-leaking Deepwater Horizons rig, but the politics of America's worst oil spill has already made its way up the eastern seaboard to North Carolina. Sen. Richard Burr (R) -- a one-term incumbent on the long end of the list of targets for November -- is coming under fire from Democrats over his continued support for offshore drilling even as speculation mounts that oil from the BP spill could land on Carolina beaches before all is said and done.

Even before they choose who'll face Burr in the fall, state Democrats are aiming to make the spill an issue for Burr. In a new online campaign (the first salvo of which was obtained by TPMDC today) they say will expand after the June 22 Democratic primary runoff, they're claiming he's chosen to give BP a free pass as the environmental catastrophe spreads.

For his part, Burr has brushed off the attacks, criticizing Democrats for politicizing the ongoing catastrophe. Underneath it all is the specter of oil washing up on the NC shore, an event that could take oil politics in the state from the realm of philosophical debate to local hot-button issue.

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You may recall that the last time Sen. Blanche Lincoln faced Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in an Arkansas Democratic primary vote, things did not go so well -- instead of the classic shot of the candidate casting her ballot, cameras caught Lincoln being forced to fill out a provisional ballot because the polling place said she had voted already. She had requested an absentee ballot but not filled it out, causing a bit of a campaign fail for the incumbent Senator under attack from the left for being more concerned about Washington than Arkansas.

Today, the story was different. Lincoln campaign spokesperson Katie Laning Niebaum told me that Lincoln voted in person with no trouble in her home precint at around 12:30 Arkansas time.

"It was a regular ballot," Niebaum told me.

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A father and son have been arrested and charged with conspiring to threaten a U.S. official after they allegedly sent a letter to Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) threatening to kill him over his vote for the health care bill.

Russell Hesch, 73, and David Hesch, 50, were charged with conspiracy to threaten to assault, kidnap or murder a U.S. official. They face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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A pair of new polls show Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who is on the list of Democratic targets this year, is well ahead of either of his potential Democratic challengers. The polls, one from Rasmussen and one from PPP (D), show Burr with double-digit leads over both Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Iraq War vet Cal Cunningham, who will face Democratic voters in a runoff election June 22.

In the PPP poll, out today, Burr leads Marshall by a margin of 46-39. The poll was taken over the weekend among 601 registered voters and has a margin of error of 3.9%. The PPP numbers confirm a Rasmussen poll taken June 3. That poll, which surveyed 500 likely voters and has a margin of error of 3%, shows Burr leading Marshall by a margin of 50-36.

The numbers aren't any better for Cunningham, who is the national Democrats' choice for taking on Burr. In the PPP poll, Burr leads Cunningham by a margin of 46-35. In the Rasmussen poll, Burr leads 47-35.

The TPM Poll Average for the Burr-Cunningham matchup shows Burr ahead by a margin of 47.1-36.0. Against Marshall, the TPM Poll Average shows Burr ahead by a margin of 48.1-37.8.

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Independent watchdog groups remain up in arms about a new proposal to limit the powers of an ethic panel that oversees and investigates members of Congress. But they'll have to wait a bit longer to hear back from supporters of the plan, who have been largely silent

The watchdogs say that a resolution introduced last week by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), and cosponsored by 19 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, would leave the Office of Congressional Ethics without any teeth: unable to initiate investigations on their own, and barred from considering most complaints filed by outside groups.

And, they say, there are conflict of interest issues as well. Many of the cosponsors of Fudge's legislation have been OCE targets. And the panel once faulted one of Fudge's top aides, Dawn Kelly Mobley, for facilitating an ethically questionable Carribean junket for CBC members several years ago, when she worked for Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Fudge insists she began working on her resolution before she knew Mobley was the target of an investigation.

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Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who is known for his campaigns against indecency in the media, says that Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon's background as a pro-wrestling executive isn't a problem, if he were to possibly support her.

"You know the first time I met Linda McMahon was around that very subject. I was concerned and I was working with colleagues in the Senate, and Bill Bennett, about the messages that the World Wrestling was sending out to kids. And we had a good conversation," Lieberman told reports Monday. "But you know, she's running for the Senate now, so I'm not gonna hold her accountable for anything she did in the past. I want to hear what her ideas are on foreign policy, domestic policy.

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Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello said in an interview that it doesn't matter which Republican candidate wins today's primary election to challenge him in Virginia's fifth Congressional district election in November because he's been prepping for a major battle since winning his seat in the first place.

Perriello (D-VA) told me Monday night that Republican-affiliated groups began running ads against him soon after he unseated Rep. Virgil Goode (R) and that it was a given that his district would be a prime battleground for this fall's midterm elections.

"We fought back," he said.

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