CNN's Toobin: GOP Likes Voter ID Laws to 'Stop Democrats From Voting'

May 24th, 2008 3:58 PM

In America, you need to show identification to buy alcohol, get into a bar, or apply for a job. Yet, for some reason, liberal media members think that Republicans who advocate voter ID laws do so exclusively to prevent Democrats from going to polling booths.

Such was clearly evident Friday evening when Bill Moyers discussed some recent Supreme Court rulings with CNN and New Yorker magazine's legal affairs analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Better strap yourself in tightly, for the following from "Bill Moyers Journal" on PBS is guaranteed to offend all that actually believe voter identification should be required in every state (video embedded right):

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, I think they are going to do their best to stay out of the election, per se. They are not going to have many cases that deal directly with elections. But, you know, I think, for better or worse, the Justices are who they are. There are four very conservative Justices there. They decided a case about Indiana election law.

BILL MOYERS: Upholding the state's voter identification.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Correct. Which will-

BILL MOYERS: What did you think about that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, I thought it was a bad decision but a predictable one because it was a very clear attempt by Republicans to stop Democrats from voting. I don't think there's any doubt about what the motivation was of that law. It didn't say that in the text of the law. And the aim of stopping fraud was one that we all can embrace. But the fact is electoral fraud scarcely exists in this country. The real agenda was to help Republicans.

Electoral fraud scarcely exists in this country? In every election since November 2000, Democrats have pointed fingers at Republicans for committing fraud. In fact, Toobin alluded to this just moments prior, but seemed to conveniently forget:

Democrats are furious about Bush v. Gore. It remains the wounds that won't heal. This weekend HBO is doing a really terrifically entertaining movie version of that whole Florida struggle called Recount, based in part on my book, Too Close to Call. And in watching Democrats respond to that movie, you see the frustration, the anger, the lingering of bitterness about it. Republicans, like Antonin Scalia on 60 Minutes the other day, say, "Get over it."

Somehow Toobin forgot about this seconds after he said it. Yet, maybe most important, he later defined for viewers the significance of the upcoming elections in determining the future of the Court:

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, presidential elections are often decided on issues that vanish quickly after the President is inaugurated. Look at the 2000 campaign. Remember all the discussion about the Social Security lockbox? Whatever that is. I can barely remember what it is.

But if you look at George Bush's presidency, particularly his second term, what matters, the legacy he'll leave is the war in Iraq and John Roberts and Samuel Alito. And I think that's likely the case for the next President as well, that the war and the Supreme Court will be a big part of what the next President does.

BILL MOYERS: So what surprised you about McCain's speech enough for you to want to write about it this week?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, what surprised me was the degree to which he embraced, in its entirety, the really strong conservative agenda that President Bush has reflected in his appointments to the Court, that this was not the maverick John McCain. This was the John McCain who needs to ingratiate himself with the base. And he did in a big way.

BILL MOYERS: But it didn't surprise me because, as you know, he's been against Roe versus Wade for a long time. He voted for every one of George W. Bush's nominations to the judiciary. I mean, this man is not surprising on the Court.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, he- it's not surprising, but also he is in the midst of a general election campaign now where it is the custom to move towards the center. And he didn't move towards the center here. He-

BILL MOYERS: On the Court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: When it comes to the Court. His rhetoric particularly when it comes to the most divisive issues like abortion, like affirmative action, like the death penalty, was very much in the vein of appealing to the hard right.

BILL MOYERS: Why then did he speak in such a circumlocution? Because he doesn't mention abortion-


BILL MOYERS: -he doesn't mention gun control. He doesn't mention any of these hot button issues that the religious right and the conservative right really think are hallowed.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, McCain has a problem. His problem is on those issues the public, by and large, is against them. The public doesn't want to see Roe versus Wade overturned, doesn't want to see abortion abandoned, doesn't want to see affirmative action ended, doesn't want to see the death penalty expanded. So what he did was he spoke in code. There were dog whistles in there, words that can be heard and understood by people who are on the inside of the conservative movement - but the way he dealt with the issue was to speak in code but to speak very clearly in code. And that's what I tried to do in my New Yorker story, which was to unravel the code to make it clear what he was saying.

BILL MOYERS: The only concrete nouns he utilized in his speech were Alito and Roberts. Now, when his conservative constituency hears those words, Alito and Roberts, what are they hearing?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, they're hearing that these appointments have been a homerun for the conservative movement. That Alito and Roberts have now been on the Court about three years. There is not one vote that you can point to by either one of them that could be called a surprise, that could be called evidence of moderation either in the present or possibly in the future.

They are part of the conservative movement. They have joined Scalia and Thomas to be four of the most conservative Justices this court has seen since the 1930s. And that's why they were put on the Court. And that's what John McCain wants to do with his appointment.

BILL MOYERS: So what have Roberts and Alito, Scalia, and Thomas done specifically that you say, both in The Nine and in your New Yorker piece this week, have moved the Court much closer to the right-wing agenda, to fulfilling the right-wing agenda? What have they done?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Last term they upheld the federal abortion restrictions, the so-called late-term abortion ban. First time in history the Court has ever upheld a ban on a specific kind of abortion. And certainly laid the groundwork for overturning Roe versus Wade. That decision in Seattle in the school district in Seattle and Louisville certainly limited school districts specifically in what they could do but also was a dagger aimed at the heart of all affirmative action, any consideration of race, period.

Stop the tape. What Toobin failed to mention here is that the majority of Americans support the ban on late-term abortions. As such, this is HARDLY a right-wing agenda:

JEFFREY TOOBIN: They limited the rights to sue for employment discrimination in the Ledbetter case. They made it harder to challenge the - mingling of church and state. That's just a sampling of what they did.

BILL MOYERS: Some people criticize your book, National Review for one, as saying as going overboard on this conservative revolution, saying the Court has not moved that far to the right, as far to the right as you have described it.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, I think it is important to recognize that the conservative the base of the party doesn't have total control. They have four Justices. Anthony Kennedy sides with them on certain issues but not others. He has been with the conservatives on racial issues. He has not been with them on Roe v. Wade.

So it is true that the conservatives don't have total control. But they're very close.

BILL MOYERS: That's what the election's about, right?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: That's what the elect- especially when you have John Paul Stevens just celebrating his 88th birthday. Ruth Ginsburg, her 75th birthday. David Souter, 68 and not really wanting to stay on the Court much longer. That's why it's very significant-

BILL MOYERS: What was the dog whistle Obama was blowing on the campaign trail when he mentioned the late Chief Justice Earl Warren?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Oh, that's very clear. It is saving Roe versus Wade. It is allowing the consideration of race in college admissions. It is strict limits on the death penalty. It is special regard for the separation of church and state. You know, Obama is a former Constitutional Law Professor. And I've had the opportunity to talk to him about the Constitution. He still follows the Court very, very closely. He mentioned Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer as Justices he admired. So I don't think there's any doubt what kind of Justices he'll appoint to-

BILL MOYERS: Liberal Justices?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Liberal Justices but also I think Justices with some real-world experience. You know, this is the first Court in history where all nine Justices are former Federal Appeals Court Judges. I think the Court's missing something. And I think Obama feels that way, too.

So, in Toobin's view, McCain will appoint conservative justices, and Obama will offer up liberal ones:

BILL MOYERS: Do you think his strategy would be to keep the balance and instead of trying to tip the Court, the way McCain would like to tip the Court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: No, I think he'll try to tip it his way.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: I'll say yeah, I mean, you know-

BILL MOYERS: Well, let's be very candid that you-both sides want activist judges.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: This is a big plum of being President of the United States, to have Justices who reflect your ideology. Now, if he only gets one appointment he won't have a chance much to tip the balance. But if he has two, if he has four, you bet he'll try to extend his influence. This is they don't want balance. They want victory.

BILL MOYERS: Help us understand how we watch this issue during the campaign. What will you be watching for to see how the campaign, the candidates tip their hands as far as what they will do? Of course, not just the Supreme Court but all the way down the judiciary?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Well, the polling data I've seen suggests that the people who care strongly about the Supreme Court are the partisans on both sides. The people who are going to vote for their candidate anyway. The challenge for candidates when it comes to the Supreme Court is to make the issue real for the people in the middle. And I think Obama might well risk raising the issue of abortion at this point because it is something that candidates have generally stayed away from, but it is so close now to a court that will overthrow Roe versus Wade that that is an issue where the public is on a side. The question is can he turn it into a voting issue?

BILL MOYERS: Is this issue of the Supreme Court so important to Clinton supporters that it could be the issue that brings them to Obama in the general election?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: I think it is a very good issue for Obama to reach out to Clinton supporters, to say, "Look, I may not be your first choice, but look at the stakes of this election. If you care about choice, if you care about diversity, you need to be with me."

JEFFREY TOOBIN: So I do think it could be a powerful vehicle for reuniting the party.

On this point, I very much agree with Toobin, and think he's touched on the perfect strategy for Obama to woo back disenchanted, female Hillary supporters: vote for me if you want to preserve abortion rights. This has worked well for Democrats in the past, and could become a huge issue once the nomination process is finalized.

Stay tuned.