What the heck is vote caging, and why should we care?
Still, Palast's vote-caging claims are hardly unbelievable. Republicans have been systematically trying to suppress minority votes for decades, most recently calling it pushback for rampant liberal voter fraud. Our own former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was alleged to have mastered the art. And while bouncing voters from the rolls on the basis of their race violates federal law, it's not beyond imagining that eager young "loyal Bushies" aren't all that bothered by federal laws, especially if there's a way to bend rather than overtly break them.
From the point of view of the ongoing DoJ scandal, perhaps what's most urgent about the vote-caging claims is that they go a long, long way toward explaining why Karl Rove and Harriet Miers were so determined to get Griffin seated in the Arkansas U.S. Attorney's office, and to do so without a confirmation hearing. If, as the Justice Department has continued to insist, Griffin was eminently qualified for the position, why did he need to be spared the hearing at all costs? And once it became clear that he would undergo a hearing, why did Griffin sideline himself with the colorful observation that undergoing Senate confirmation would be "like volunteering to stand in front of a firing squad in the middle of a three-ring circus?" Griffin—who is now in job talks with the Fred Thompson campaign—sure looks like a guy hiding something, and if vote caging is that something, it becomes even more interesting that the White House was pushing him forward.
Why did Goodling choose to shine a beacon on the vote-caging allegations in her perfectly rehearsed, highly coached testimony last week? Having slaved to secure Griffin's U.S. attorney post, why raise the allegations against him and then subtly distance herself from him, if there is nothing to see here? Professor Rick Hasen of Loyola Law School, who wrote earlier this month about voter fraud, is my personal voting-law guru. (Everyone needs one.) When I asked him whether the mainstream media were making a mistake in blowing off the vote-caging story, he said Goodling's mention of it "makes me suspect that there's something there worth investigating by the MSM, even if you don't buy into the grand conspiracy theories."
If the media have fallen down on this story, how much more so has Congress? Nobody tried to press Goodling about what McNulty allegedly knew and withheld from Congress in regard to Griffin's alleged vote-caging schemes. I'd be interested in the answer. I'd also like to hear what Griffin himself has to say about those lists the BBC has. If the RNC was paying good money to send registered mail to homeless black men in Florida, there must have been a reason for it. Griffin, after all, has left his Arkansas post and is looking for work. (Tim, if Sen. Thompson is a no-go, I need a babysitter next Saturday!) I bet he'd like nothing better than to clear his name and remove the taint of voter suppression from his résumé.
I'd also like to hear from Karl and Harriet about why Griffin's elevation to the Arkansas job was so important, yet his confirmation so fraught. If Palast is right, Griffin and vote caging open the door to explaining the White House involvement in the U.S. attorneys purge. And the White House—not the Justice Department—has always been the least-understood part of this story. So, let's bake up some of those warm, crusty subpoenas. Last week was the first time most of us heard about vote caging. It shouldn't be the last.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.