They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Pretty much as expected, with Judge Anthony Kennedy as the key swing vote. From the AP:

The Supreme Court appeared reluctant Wednesday to strike down the nation's strictest requirement that voters show photo identification before being allowed to cast a ballot....

"You want us to invalidate the statute because of minimal inconvenience?" Justice Anthony Kennedy said near the end of an hour-long argument. Kennedy, often a key vote, appeared more willing than some to consider changes to the law....

Chief Justice John Roberts, an Indiana native, and Justice Antonin Scalia indicated strong support for the state law. Justice Clarence Thomas said nothing, but most often votes with his conservative colleagues....

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg focused her questions on the difficulties for indigent voters who lack IDs. Why, she asked, can't the state allow those voters to sign the sworn statement on Election Day, which would eliminate the second trip to the county courthouse?

Told Indiana wants to avoid congestion at the polls, Ginsburg said the state wants to have it both ways because it argues relatively few people are affected by the law. "If there are so few of them, I don't understand why they should be put to the burden," Ginsburg said.

Here's a detailed rundown from SCOTUSblog.

Yesterday, we reported that the administration's scheme to pack the Civil Rights Commission with Republicans was on shaky legal footing.

But a TPM reader made a good observation. The packing scheme relies on Republican commissioners changing their party affiliation to "Independent" after they've been appointed, thus creating room for more Republicans to be appointed (there can be no more than four commissioners at any one time from a single party).

The Republicans who've switched their affiliation, of course, have denied changing them just to create more room for other conservatives. Abigail Thernstrom was no different, telling the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage that she'd just decided that she'd be "most comfortable" as an independent.

But her comfortability level appears to have abruptly changed. In December, the president reappointed her to the commission, but this time as a Republican, after one of the four Republican nominees left. The move also allowed her to become the commission's vice chairman. (Update/Correction: Bush actually promoted Thernstrom to be vice chair in 2004 -- ironically, six weeks after her first party registration change.)

So to retrace her steps: she was first nominated as a Republican, then registered as an independent, then was re-nominated as an Republican. With that move, the commission's conservative majority drops to five to two -- it's not clear yet who the eighth nominee will be, or what party he or she will represent. But not to worry: the committee can move forward on business with a simply majority, so the commission's direction shouldn't change that much.

A federal magistrate is giving the White House five business days to report on whether computer backup tapes contain copies of millions of e-mails that disappeared from computer servers during the government’s investigation into the Valerie Plame affair. Two federal laws mandate that the White House preserve e-mails and other records. The National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have filed suit to ensure that the White House complies with the relevant federal laws. (AP)

The Department of Defense’s Inspector General refuses to investigate former Halliburton/KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones’ allegations of gang rape by fellow employees in Baghdad because he asserts that the Justice Department is looking into the matter. Though the alleged rape happened in 2005, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have failed to get answers from the Bush White House on the status of Leigh’s complaint. (ABC’s “The Blotter”)

Concerned that ethics allegations surrounding John Doolittle's (R-CA) ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff might sink his re-election chances and cost the party a seat in Congress, Republican leaders are urging the California representative to retire. (The Hill)

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Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether Indiana's voter ID law breaks the law. If a law disenfranchises thousands of voters (mostly poor and minorities) to prevent a phantom crime, is that ok?

Of course, it's rare to hear the Republican supporters of voter ID laws admit that there's no evidence that voter impersonation, the kind of voter fraud the laws are meant to stop, occurs.

But that's just what happened yesterday when Warren Olney of KCRW's To The Point pressed Todd Rokita (R), Indiana's secretary of state and a named defendant in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.

Have any cases of voter impersonation been prosecuted in Indiana? was the simple question. And as Olney pressed, Rokita went from one fallback argument to another. It started with this revealing exchange:

Q: ...Have there been cases in Indiana where people represented themselves as somebody else in order to be able to vote?

Rokita: Oh yeah, we suspect it happens all the time.

Q: You suspect?

Rokita: Mm hmm.

Q: Have you got any cases proven?

Rokita: Well, are you saying you want to define whether or not there’s fraud based on whether or not it’s prosecuted? Is that the question?

From there, Rokita argued that there is fraud (it "exists almost on a daily basis"), but that it's nearly impossible to prosecute due to the ephemeral nature of the crime. And it tends not to be a priority for prosecutors due to all the other violent and horrible stuff they need to prosecute. And even if there hasn't been any such voter fraud (and I'm not saying that there isn't), we have a right to protect ourselves from it; "You have the right to build a firehouse before you get burned by the fire."

It bears mentioning here that the Justice Department under George Bush has indeed made prosecuting voter fraud a priority -- and came up empty. That fact hasn't stopped voter ID law proponents from claiming hundreds of demonstrated cases of voter fraud. It's quite a morass of innuendo, but the Brennan Center (which has filed an amicus brief with the law's opponents) undertook the staggering task of disproving every one of those claims one by one. It's a 75 page document (pdf).

The lawyers actually arguing the case before the court today are likely to be more eloquent than Rokita, but the arguments will essentially be the same. So take a look at the relevant excerpts from the interview below.

via Rick Hasen.

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From Roll Call (sub. req.):

Sen. Larry Craig’s (R-Idaho) legal team filed a brief Tuesday in the Minnesota Court of Appeals seeking to overturn a lower court’s ruling preventing him from withdrawing his guilty plea.

The brief argues that the Hennepin County district court “abused its discretion” by refusing to allow Craig to withdraw his guilty plea in a ruling on Oct. 4. Craig filed a notice of appeal on Oct. 15 and briefs were due on Jan. 8.

The state now has 45 days to respond.

From The Los Angeles Times:

Alarmed at the increasingly populist tone of the 2008 political campaign, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is set to issue a fiery promise to spend millions of dollars to defeat candidates deemed to be anti-business.

"We plan to build a grass-roots business organization so strong that when it bites you in the butt, you bleed," chamber President Tom Donohue said....

Although Donohue shied away from precise figures, he indicated that his organization would spend in excess of the approximately $60 million it spent in the last presidential cycle. That approaches the spending levels planned by the largest labor unions....

"I'm concerned about anti-corporate and populist rhetoric from candidates for the presidency, members of Congress and the media," he said. "It suggests to us that we have to demonstrate who it is in this society that creates jobs, wealth and benefits -- and who it is that eats them."

Here's President Bush today when he was asked about Sunday's incident in the Strait of Hormuz, where, according to U.S. officials, a small group of Iranian speedboats issued threats to American ships and then fled just as the Americans were about to open fire:

I'm not sure what happened to the talking points on this one, because all Bush could bring himself to say was that it was "a provocative act," and (after several more seconds of silence) "they should not have done it." Hardly what you'd expect given the show they put on last year.

Back in November, The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage reported on how the Bush administration had stacked the U.S. Civil Rights Commission with Republicans -- two GOP commissioners had switched their registration to independents after being appointed, clearing the way for the administration to appoint two more Republicans. The scheme was entirely legal, the administration said, and the Justice Department, in a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel, had said so. But now a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has found the OLC memo "problematic" and says that if someone were to challenge the arrangement in court, the administration would probably lose.

You can read the report, which was prepared at the request of counsels on the Senate Judiciary Committee staff, here.

The commission was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and is supposed to serve as a watchdog for discrimination. But there hasn't been much of that during this administration. Savage reported that the coup shifted "the commission's emphasis from investigating claims of civil rights violations to questioning programs designed to offset the historic effects of discrimination."

Here's how the scheme works. The commission has eight members. By law, no more than four of them can be from any one party -- usually meaning that there are four Dems and four GOPers. But since two of the commissioners changed their party affiliation to independents after they were appointed, the commission now has only two Dems, two "independents," and four Republicans.

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You might say there's an art, a finesse to earmarking. And Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) $2 million earmark in 2001 to the Voyager literacy program was bad art.

The Washington Post laid it all out in a big piece late last year: four days after getting a heap of campaign contributions from Voyager executives and relatives, Landrieu delivered the earmark, which provided the money to city school officials in Washington, D.C. on the condition that it be used on Voyager.

Now the D.C. watchdog Citizens for Responsibility for Ethics in Washington says the feds should investigate whether Landrieu was bribed. The group filed complaints today with the Justice Department, two U.S. attorneys offices, and the Senate Ethics Committee based on the earmark.

The basic facts aren't pretty. Voyager's founder Randy Best is a Texan and Bush supporter (he signed up to be a Bush Pioneer in 2000, but apparently didn't raise enough money to qualify). He only approached Landrieu in 2001 after striking out on the Republican side of the aisle; when he hired a second lobbyist for help, they approached Landrieu. After an apparently positive meeting between Best and Landrieu, someone from her office approached Best to see if he would host a fundraiser for her. Voyager executives and relatives delivered $30,000 in contributions for Landrieu, and "most had never before given to a Democrat running for Congress." Four days later, Landrieu followed through for Voyager. Over the years, Voyager execs and relatives gave her almost $80,000.

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