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Burden of Proof

Panel of Law Students Look at Legal Issues Facing Campaign 2000

Aired October 17, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: The race for the White House. As George W. Bush and Al Gore prepare for their last debate, what legal issues, what personal characteristics will matter the most to the voters?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Al Gore is going to be himself, and I think the important thing, if the debate goes forward, is that he will clarify the choice that the American people have, and what seems to be the closest presidential election in 40 years.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: Leadership is important. Experience matters, but judgment trumps it all. Do you have the judgment, the right kind of judgment, to provide the leadership that we need in a president? And that's where I think George W. Bush wins.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Tonight in St. Louis, Missouri, Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore will square off in their third debate. Now, the town hall-style meeting will be the last chance for both presidential candidates to make their case in front of a national audience.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Several issues relating to the law have emerged during the course of the campaign, including what shape will the Supreme Court take under the next president?

Today we are going to have our town hall meeting with a panel of law students. Joining is are Katherine Sulzer, who is a recent graduate of George Washington University Law School and a Bush supporter; Mik Moore, a Georgetown University Law student and a Nader supporter; Abigail Roberts, a Georgetown University law student and a Gore supporter. And in the our back row: Steve Raiser, a St. John's University law student and Buchanan supporter; Wesley Greer, an American University law student and a Gore supporter; and finally Donald Dudley, a Catholic University law student and a Bush supporter.

COSSACK: But before we get to our main topic, a tragic event has cast a pall over tonight's debate. Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, his son and senior campaign adviser were killed last night in a plane crash just south of St. Louis. The Democratic governor, who was running in one of the most hotly contested U.S. Senate races in the country, was traveling to a campaign fundraiser when his plane tragically crashed.

VAN SUSTEREN: Because the election is less than a month away, Carnahan's name will remain on the ballot.

Joining us from St. Louis, Missouri is law professor Ronald Levin.

Ron, on October 13th was the deadline for making any changes in the ballot. What happens in this election in Missouri?

RONALD LEVIN, LAW PROFESSOR: Well, as you just said, the election goes forward with Governor Carnahan's name on the ballot. If his opponent, the incumbent Senator John Ashcroft is reelected, he will take office just as normally. But if Governor Carnahan gets more votes, although deceased, then an appointment will be made by the new governor, the acting governor, Roger Wilson.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ron, what about the possibility of a write-in, is there any chance that sort of a movement will be underfoot to try to encourage a write-in candidate of some Democrat other than the now deceased governor?

LEVIN: It is a legal possibility, but as a practical matter, it seems very difficult to do in a statewide election. So I suppose the alternative for Democrats would be to try to make sure that Governor Carnahan gets more votes, and then look to the new governor of the state, who is a Democrat, to appoint a Democrat as the successor for a two-year term.

COSSACK: Ron, what about this as an alternative: it seems to me that one could argue that when you have a tragedy like we've just seen that perhaps this is not an election that's perhaps representative or fair anymore. What if the Democratic Party came in and said: We would like to file a lawsuit, ask that the election for senator be postponed for a month or two months, to give us time to come up with another candidate to run against Senator Ashcroft. Could that have any success?

LEVIN: You have to go back to the United States Constitution, which says in Article 1, Section 4 that the manner of holding elections for senators and representatives is decided by the legislatures of the states. The legislature of Missouri has provided for the sequence to occur, as I described, that is the nominee's names stays on the ballot because the last day to change it was last week. This is different from the situation, for example, in Connecticut, where it has been widely reported Senator Lieberman has until next week to decide whether he will have his name removed from the ballot, and a new nominee put forward. In Missouri, it stands for state law.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ron, I understand that the governor's seat is also up for grabs, that there is a race involving that. If a Republican wins the governor's seat in Missouri, and then if now deceased Governor Carnahan wins the Senate seat, then of course you would have a Republican governor replacing a senator, be a Republican candidate, would it not be likely?

LEVIN: No, that's not the way it would work because the seat would become vacant on January 3rd when the present incumbent's seat term runs out, but the new governor does not take office until January 8th. So, for that short period of time, you have an open Senate seat and a Democratic holdover governor, so it would be a Democratic appointment.

VAN SUSTEREN: So the current lieutenant governor, Roger Wilson, would be the one appointing the U.S. senator at that point because of those few days that lapse, right?

LEVIN: Right, as acting governor, but only if Governor Carnahan receives more votes on the ballots in November than Senator Ashcroft.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ron, thank you very much for joining us today from Missouri.

We are going to now turn the corner and talk to our law students about the debate tonight, and about the issues that are going to face these candidates as they run for president of the United States.

Let me start first with you. Wesley, how important is the United States Supreme Court, in your mind, to the voters? or how important should it be when they cast a vote in November, you are a Gore supporter.

WESLEY GREER, LAW STUDENT: I am. I think it should be very important, but sometimes I wonder if the American public has taken it to be that important. I think more issues, such as women's right to choose, gun control, will probably be more issues that are on the American conscious.

VAN SUSTEREN: Aren't those, though, Wesley, in some way, aren't those also, though, Supreme Court issues, in that the supreme court ultimately decides many of these issues, whether it is abortion or gun control, they sort of wind their way up there somehow?

GREER: Exactly, which is why I think the choice of the Supreme Court justice should be very important in the American conscious because it is very circular. Again, we have talked about these various issues, but again the Supreme Court addresses these issues, and whichever candidate wins will place people on the bench that will be more in line with their views. So if they, for instance, if Bush does wins, Bush more likely than not, even though he's taken a middle of the road answer, as far as who he will place on the bench, he will more likely put people on the bench that will side with his views, and they will make decisions that are more along that conscious.

COSSACK: Let's go to one of our women. Katherine, you are a Bush supporter.

KATHERINE SULZER, RECENT LAW SCHOOL GRADUATE: Yes.

COSSACK: And there has been criticism from the Gore camp at least that women should be concerned, if you believe in pro-choice, women should be concerned about the kind of Supreme Court justices that Governor Bush may put on the Supreme Court, does that trouble you?

SULZER: Well, to be honest, it doesn't because Governor Bush has not really used abortion as a litmus test. Three of his four appointees to the Supreme Court of Texas have been pro-choice judges, whereas Gore has come out and said that he will use it as a litmus test. So it doesn't concern me.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mik, what about Nader? You are a Nader supporter, what would a President Nader do with the Supreme Court?

MIK MOORE, NADER SUPPORTER: Well, I think he would be -- I think he would be great for the Supreme Court. I think...

VAN SUSTEREN: Like how, though, what would be different about Ralph Nader?

MOORE: Well, Clinton I think gives you a sense of where Gore would go, in terms of his appointees, and Clinton has basically appointed two moderate to liberal justices, and I think Nader would appoint someone, say, more in the role of a Marshall or a Brennan, as opposed to a Breyer or a Ginsberg.

COSSACK: Abigail, you are a gore supporter. Katherine says that perhaps Gore will use this as a litmus test. Is this something that troubles you, is this something that, as a woman, you feel is important, is an important issue?

ABIGAIL ROBERTS, GORE SUPPORTER: I think it is a very important issue, and I think it is one of the most important issues in this debate, really, or in the campaign. And I think to say that Bush isn't -- Bush has said that he's going to pick judges like Scalia and Thomas. Scalia and Thomas are not pro-choice in any sense of the manner, so to say that he is not going to make a litmus choice test is very -- it's deceptive.

VAN SUSTEREN: Don, what about your friends back in Milwaukee, from the great state of Wisconsin, I might add, do you think they care about the Supreme Court when they go to vote this November? Do you think that even matters to them, or is that not the big issue?

DONALD DUDLEY, LAW STUDENT: I think it should be the biggest issue, whether or not it is is another question. I think it is an important issue, though, because George Bush, when he is elected, he will appoint judges who may support abortion, may not, but I think what is going to happen is they are going to be more state rights people, they are going to allow the states to legislate.

COSSACK: Let me just get to Steve so we can complete the panel.

Steve, your feeling on the Supreme Court, on this particular issue, and how important is -- you are a Buchanan supporter -- how important is the Supreme Court issue, and I am going to ask all of you to say important, not so important, or medium, when we are through here. Answer, please, Steve.

STEVE RAISER, LAW STUDENT: I think the people consider it a very important issue, no doubt about that. It is an important issue obviously because there will be an affect. However, the issue of the Supreme Court justice has been elevated to a bigger issue than I think it should be for this particular campaign because what we are going see happen is, depending on which justice decides to retire, I mean, we are assuming as if the whole Supreme Court is going to retire some time in the next four years. That may or may not happen. And also some of the Supreme Court justices which are more in line with the particular ideology of the president will be more apt to retire at that time.

So if a justice such as say Rehnquist retires while Bush is in office, Bush will appoint hopefully, as the Bush people would say, another conservative justice. It would now change the balance of the court at all.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me just add one thing is that your candidate, Pat Buchanan, used to be a colleague of ours here at CNN. He has said on the air that he would not put me on his short list.

COSSACK: Quickly, most important, important, not so important of the Supreme Court issue -- Steve.

RAISER: Asking important to Buchanan?

COSSACK: Most important, important, not so important.

RAISER: It's important.

GREER: Important.

DUDLEY: Second most important.

SULZER: Important.

MOORE: Moderately important.

ROBERTS: Important.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think it's very important, although you didn't ask me.

COSSACK: We both think it is really important. VAN SUSTEREN: We are going to take a break. When we come back: hate crimes, gun control and racial profiling. Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

Government investigators begin debriefing nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee today as part of a plea agreement.

Lee pleaded guilty to downloading nuclear secrets and making tapes of nuclear information. Some of those tapes are still missing.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers, you can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to cnn.com/burden. We now provide a live video feed Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show, and even join our chatroom.

VAN SUSTEREN: As the presidential candidates prepare for tonight's final debate in Missouri, we're talking about what impact the next president will have on some key legal issues.

On October 11th, the candidates were asked about racial profiling and this was the response by both of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can't imagine what it would be like to be singled out because of race and stopped and harassed. That's just flat wrong, and that's not what America is all about. So we ought to do everything we can to end racial profiling.

VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I am entrusted with the presidency, it will be the first civil rights act of the 21st century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Abigail, Vice President Gore is your candidate. What would a statute do to racial profiling? How would a civil rights statute even make a difference on this terrible issue?

ROBERTS: Well, it would enhance the penalties for people who violated other civil rights.

VAN SUSTEREN: How would you envision how you even catch somebody. I mean this is a very extraordinary topic, racial profiling, how do you find those that are doing it? We know it exists, but how do find someone who is doing it?

ROBERTS: Other than wandering the streets? No, I think there is evidence, there is proof that policemen and detectives accumulate I would assume, and I think we all know, for instance, some of the recent racist hate crimes that have occurred in the last year or so.

COSSACK: Wesley, can you catch people who are racial profiling? Can you pass a law to prevent racial profiling? Isn't that a policy issue? Can you really a pass a law that says: Don't do that?

GREER: I think it is possible, but I think you have to weigh what you are actually dealing with. There is a certain balance that takes place here. You are speaking of passing a law that deals with racial profiling, but at that time same time, you don't necessarily want to hinder police officers from doing their jobs. That's going to be a very touchy scenario, as to how they are going to go about doing that, it is going to be very interesting.

VAN SUSTEREN: Abigail, one of the issues you raise is hate crimes. The candidates were asked about hate crimes in their last debate. This is what they had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: Because of race, you know, James Byrd was singled out because of his race in Texas, and other Americans have been singled out because of their race or ethnicity. And that's why I think that we can embody our values by passing a hate crimes law.

BUSH: We've got one in Texas, and guess what? The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what is going to happen to them? They are going to be put to death. A jury found them guilty. And it's going to be hard to punish them any worse after they get put to death. It's the right cost, it is the right decision.

VAN SUSTEREN: Katherine, your candidate, Governor Bush, has been criticized by some on the issue of hate crimes. How important do you think this should be to the voters, this issue of hate crimes? and what is your candidate's position?

SULZER: Well, I think the issue of hate crimes is an important issue, but I think it has been distorted to a certain degree. I think what we have to concentrate on is laws that are already on the books, and enforcing those laws.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the situation, let me give you a hypothetical, let's say that I come to your house and I do some really -- I put some sign in your house, and on the front yard and burn it down, and it's just done because of hate, just because I hated your background. Ordinarily, it is a trespassing, I pay $25 ticket and I go home. A hate crime would elevate it to punish me for my hatred to you because of whether it is your ethnic background, your religion, or whatever. Don't we need that to send a message to somebody like me, who otherwise just get a trespassing ticket.

SULZER: I don't think we need more laws, I think we need more respect towards each other. I think it goes to grain of our society.

COSSACK: Steve, I want you to weigh in on hate crimes, and the issue of whether or not -- Governor Bush says: Look, we had a horrible hate crime in Texas, we are going to execute these guys, how much more do you need? Do we really need, is the public policy, should there be a public policy that says: Hate crimes add on more time?

RAISER: Well, again, with this issue both candidates are exactly the same, and I would disagree with both of them.

COSSACK: You are a Buchanan supporter, I want your viewpoint.

RAISER: Right. Hate crime legislation is basically trying to hit the intents of the individual, and that is not something that should necessarily enhance the penalties, because I believe if someone kills somebody out of hatred, it should be an equal penalty for whoever does it for whatever reason.

VAN SUSTEREN: A minor offense, like a trespass thing, where I put something in your front lawn, where it would be like a ticket essentially. I mean, obviously, if it is murder, you can get the death penalty in most states. But let's say that I'm so hateful to you that I wander on your property and do that: Should I get an elevated penalty? Do we need hate crimes for that?

RAISER: I don't think you should get an elevated penalty because of the language that was used or what it said on the sign. I think that the penalty should be the same, if there's a sign planted in someone's lawn and set on fire for whatever -- it should be the same for everybody across-the-board. What is the difference what the intent of the individual was? What they did was wrong, and they should be punished.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. When we return, what legal issues have the candidates failed to address? Our guests will weigh-in. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore have outlined very different views on legal issue ranging from Supreme Court appointments to hate crimes to affirmative actions. But let's continue. In the last segment, we spoke a little bit about hate crimes and found out that we have some diverse opinions on that among our law students.

Don, we didn't give you a chance to speak. Go ahead and weigh in.

DUDLEY: Simply put, I don't think that creating more laws is going to solve any problems. When we're talking about more simple transgressions, not murder or kidnapping, there's going to be other laws that are going to be able to affect that -- arson for burning things. If I burn a house down, does it really matter that I did it because I didn't like the person's race?

VAN SUSTEREN: How about you don't burn the house down you just have the burning sign in the yard? DUDLEY: I think that's still covered under arson laws. In most states, that's...

VAN SUSTEREN: If I bring a sign to your yard and put it in the yard and burn it down...

COSSACK: I think it begs the issues, I mean, though, in some ways about what -- I think what -- at least what I would be saying is, you know, look, as a country, we have to make a statement that says we will not tolerate people taking out their hate on others. And one of the ways we're going to do that is by increasing penalties. Now, is that something we should be in the business of doing?

DUDLEY: At the federal level, no. On the state levels, I think they should be able to choose to do that. I would do that with hesitation, though, because I think as soon as you start making distinctions between using biases and prejudices to form more of an element of a crime, you're going to demean the other crimes, the simpler crimes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mik, your candidate is Ralph Nader. I'm sure Ralph Nader has lots to say about the two who are participating in the debates. But do you think the candidates, Bush and Gore, have neglected any legal issues?

MOORE: I think they completely ignored a good discussion on the criminal justice system. We just recently passed 2 million people in our prisons. And, I mean, I think, like, I've watched all the debates. The issue hasn't come up at all. And a lot of these people are nonviolent offenders. The war on drugs has been condemned by numerous commentators as wasting, you know, resources, and yet, you know, because both parties are stuck with a sort of tough-on-crime agenda, they have no problem locking people up.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about that, Abigail? You're a Gore supporter.

ROBERTS: I absolutely agree with Mik, actually. There's 100:1 ratio between crack cocaine right now in our sentencing laws which is a very racist outcome in distinction because it distinctions unfairly against African-Americans. Again, I think our federal prisons are overcrowded with drug laws. And there have been polls showing that many of the public don't necessarily agree with those sentences and I think...

COSSACK: Let me...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you a quick question. Let me just ask her a quick follow-up.

I think Katherine probably asked you, OK, Gore's had eight years to fix that. How does he answer that, I mean, or at least address those issues?

ROBERTS: Well, I think one way to address it is to say quite simply that he has had to deal with a Republican Congress that's been very adverse to any of these sorts of laws. For instance, the gun laws, they filibustered those for two years despite the public outcry against Columbine and so on. So I think he's been working, Clinton's been working...

COSSACK: I don't know how much time we have left, but, Steve, quickly, some would argue that gay marriage is a constitutional right. Others would say it's a states right. Your feelings on that, quickly?

RAISER: Well, it is a state right issue. And Mr. Buchanan would certainly not support any gay unions because a gay union is not a marriage. Marriage is a sacred institution that's to be respected by all, but it does have the basic element that it's between a man and a woman.

VAN SUSTEREN: And you get the last word because that's all the time we have today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

COSSACK: Join us tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. And remember it was ground-shaking today: The whole panel spoke. We'll see you tomorrow.

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