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It's pretty fitting that one day after one of the biggest events this campaign season, the New Hampshire primaries, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on a case that could significantly affect the 2008 election: the fight over Indiana's voter ID law.

The issues behind Crawford v. Marion County Election Board are pretty simple to understand. The Indiana law, passed by Republicans, prevents citizens from voting without a picture ID, and they say it will stop voter fraud, though they can't point to a single instance of criminal voter impersonation occurring in the state. It is a solution in search of a problem.

Or rather, it's a solution to a very different problem. In this issue of New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin writes that the voter ID laws, which Republicans have pushed in states throughout the country, are a reminder that, though racism has disappeared from mainstream political discourse, "racial discrimination itself" has not been banished from politics:

“Let’s not beat around the bush,” Terence T. Evans, the dissenting Court of Appeals judge in the Indiana case, slyly wrote. “The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.” He’s not the only one to notice: the three federal judges who approved the Indiana law were appointed by a Republican President; the lone dissenter was appointed by a Democrat. It was also Republican-dominated legislatures that produced the Indiana and Georgia laws, both of which were signed by Republican governors.

Who are the “certain folks,” in Judge Evans’s delicate phrase, that the Indiana law is trying to discourage? The best answer can be found in a friend-of-the-court brief in the case filed by twenty-nine leading historians and scholars of voting rights. They concluded that the Indiana law belongs to a malign tradition in “this nation’s history of disfranchising people of color and poor whites under the banner of ‘reform.’ ” Such measures as the poll tax and literacy tests, they write, were “billed as anti-fraud or anti-corruption devices; yet through detailed provisions within them, they produced a discriminatory effect (often intended) within the particular historical context.” So it will be in Indiana, where the law creates a series of onerous barriers to voting.

And don't forget that the United States government, by way of the Justice Department, has weighed in to support the Republican side of the argument. As election law expert Rick Hasen has pointed out, the fight over voter ID laws has been strictly partisan -- Republicans push and support the laws, Republican-appointed judges uphold them, and recently Republican secretaries of state have written amicus briefs in support of Indiana's law. So the Bush Administration's decision shouldn't surprise.

The court will deliver a decision by late June, in time to affect the November elections. As for what's likely to happen Wednesday, Toobin himself is not optimistic about the outcome of the arguments:

As a general matter, in recent years the Court has been reluctant to find what is charged in this case: a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. (The notable exception, to belabor the issue, was for a plaintiff named George W. Bush.) In the end, though, it will not be the judiciary that rescues democracy; whatever the obstacles, the problems with the ballot box must be solved at the ballot box. In the end, though, it will not be the judiciary that rescues democracy; whatever the obstacles, the problems with the ballot box must be solved at the ballot box.

Note: Here's The New York Times' rundown of the case.

Surprise, surprise. From Roll Call (sub. req.):

Putting weeks of speculation to rest, former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.) confirmed Friday they plan to file paperwork next week to form a powerful lobbying partnership called The Breaux Lott Leadership Group....

“This is not a well kept secret to say the least,” Lott said. “We’ve worked together for many years in the House and Senate and in the leadership together in the Senate. We thought it was a good opportunity and a fun opportunity to work together.

“We start next Monday and we’re hoping to find some business.”...

While Breaux left the Senate three years ago, Lott abruptly resigned his seat late last year — a move that fueled speculation that he wanted to leave his post before new, stricter lobbying restrictions took effect.

House sleuth Henry Waxman (D-CA) has set a date, January 16th and invited a stable of players fingered in the Mitchell Report to testify, he announced today. They are: Brian McNamee, Kirk Radomski, Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, and Roger Clemens.

Tough luck, Spencer. Looks like the Yanks are very well represented.

Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better for Norman Hsu, the bizarre Hillraiser and fraudster.

He's been sent off to prison for 3 years to serve time for the fraud he was convicted of way back in 1992. And he still has to go to trial for the Ponzi scheme he was charged with by federal prosecutors in New York.

Here's an approach I haven't seen before. From The Chicago Tribune:

In the latest legal contest over the treatment of detained terrorist suspects, attorneys for Jose Padilla filed a suit in a California federal district court this morning against John Yoo, the former deputy assistant Attorney General whose legal opinions formed the basis for Padilla's detention and the interrogation techniques used against him that the attorneys call torture....

The suit filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, turns the spotlight of blame on Yoo, the author of a series of legal memoranda known collectively as the "Torture Memos." Drafted in 2002, when Yoo was a deputy assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department, they provided the legal justification for the interrogation techniques used on suspected Al Qaeda operatives that many, from former generals to presidential candidates, have since decried as torture.

"John Yoo is the first person in American history to provide the legal authorization for the instiution of torture in the U.S.," said Jonathan Freiman, an attorney representing Padilla in the suit. "He [Yoo] was an absolutely essential part of what will be viewed by history as a group of rogue officials acting under cover of law to undermine fundamental never would have happened without the legal green light. That made it possible."

The Federal Election Commission, the agency that administers and enforces campaign finance laws, has shut down.

How big of a deal is that? Well, the consequences will not be immediately felt -- but if it stays shut down, it could significantly affect the 2008 elections.

As of now, the FEC has only two commissioners. It needs four to do anything. The reason for the shortage, of course, is the Senate stalemate over vote-suppression guru Hans von Spakovsky's nomination. Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and others have opposed Republicans' efforts to have Spakovsky bundled with three other FEC nominees (2 Dems and another Republican).

And when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tried to hold up-or-down votes on each of the nominees separately in December, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked it. And that's where things stand. The White House says that it's standing behind Spakovsky (even though he's packed his bags and gone).

The FEC's shutdown could affect the election in a number of ways. The first and most obvious is the oversight role it plays with third party groups, such as 527s and nonprofits that spend tens of millions of dollars each election. But there are other -- probably greater -- ramifications.

For instance, the FEC disburses public matching funds for candidates. Since it's shutdown, it's prevented from doing that. And since John Edwards is the highest profile candidate to participate in that system, it might become a problem for him.

In December, The Washington Post hit on this, and Edwards staffers pronounced themselves unconcerned:

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As far as dirty tricks go, I'm sure we're going to see a lot worse this campaign, especially when it comes to the general election.

But the anonymous letters sent to Iowa pastors supporting Mike Huckabee still deserve a tip of the hat:

Rev. Brad Sherman of Iowa was kind enough to pass this one along. He said it came in an envelope with no return address and addressed with a printed mailing label. Enclosed was a printout from the IRS website.

It's not clear yet how many people received this letter. Huckabee's spokesman has made noises about possibly seeking a criminal investigation, but given the crudeness and lameness of the attempt (if you're going to pull a dirty trick, why not at least pose as the IRS or the Justice Department?), I doubt that would get very far. Clearly it didn't have much of an effect.

From The Swamp:

Mukasey announced today that he's appointing Chicago federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to the Attorney General's advisory committee of U.S. attorneys.

Fitzgerald was on the committee from 2001 until 2005, but his appointment to it preceded his service as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation....

Gonzales... did not re-appoint Fitzgerald to the advisory panel, which counsels the attorney general on law enforcement issues.

The President's questionable pocket veto of the 2008 Defense Authorization Act has left the future of some military bonuses uncertain. Until the bill - which provides funding for bonuses - becomes law, the bonuses for the Army and Air Force will not be guaranteed, although they are expected to be paid retroactively. (Army Times, Air Force Times)

Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman will have to stay in prison while he appeals his conviction for bribery and obstruction of justice, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller argued that Siegelman's conviction was not likely to be overturned. (Birmingham News)

The criminal inquiry into the CIA's destruction of interrogation videotapes is pitting the FBI against the CIA. Agents from the FBI, which has been critical of the CIA's interrogation practices, are leading the investigation. (New York Times)

Despite Hans von Spakovsky's resignation from the Federal Elections Committee, the White House says that his nomination for the FEC is still active in the Senate and has not been withdrawn. (The Politico)

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You can say that the Bush Administration is a band of crooks. You can say that they're by and large incompetent. But you can't say they lack chutzpah.

And when it comes to chutzpah, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson clearly has got what it takes. But will he hold the line now that Congress is bringing its probing power to bear?

Late last month, Johnson denied California's petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. It was an act of pure, unmitigated, just-because-I-can chutzpah.

A little background first: California's rule would seek to cut emissions by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016. Not surprisingly, that's a much steeper cut than the Bush Administration (and the auto industry) wants. Since other states are following California's lead, half of the American population (and car consumers) could be affected. The CEOs of Ford and Chrysler met with Dick Cheney late last year to have a chat about this.

But Johnson came through. Consider Johnson denied California its waiver (states have to get the EPA's OK before instituting environmental rules) despite:

-- the unanimous recommendation of the agency's legal and technical staffs that he should grant the waiver

-- being told by the agency's legal staff that if he blocked the waiver, EPA would lose in court when California and environmentalists sued, but that if he granted the waiver, the move would stand in court no matter who challenged it

-- not having any real reason for denying the waiver

-- California has never had a waiver denied in the Clean Air Act's 37-year history

So far, in the two weeks since Johnson made his move, journalists haven't had much luck finding anyone who will say that his decision is supportable. The Washington Post quoted William Reilly, who was EPA administrator under President George H.W. Bush as saying, "What I want to know from the [administration] is: What possible grounds would there possibly be to deny California this waiver?"

As for Johnson and the administration, their tactic seems to be to brazen their way through this.

The President has offered a "clear national solution" to the problem of auto greenhouse omissions, Johnson said. He had to block California's rules because it would lead to a "confusing patchwork of state rules."

And about that unanimous-staff-revolt thing? His spokeswoman says that Johnson "tremendously values the legal and technical expertise of his staff," but that "the Clean Air Act states that the authority to decide waiver requests rests with the administrator. He evaluated the waiver ... and obviously he made his decision." So there.

President Bush certainly thought Johnson made the right call. "Is it more effective to let each state make a decision as to how to proceed in curbing greenhouse gases? Or is it more effective to have a national strategy?" So much for state's rights.

But now comes the real test of Johnson's chutzpah reservoir. House sleuth Henry Waxman (D-CA) says that he'll investigate the decision. Senate environmental committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will hold hearings. And yesterday Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) requested that the EPA's inspector general launch an investigation.

And don't forget the courts. That lawsuit with the foreordained outcome has already been launched. Yesterday, California, 15 other states, and five environmental group filed suit.

How will Johnson hold up under Waxman's questioning? Stay tuned.