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Burden of Proof

Road Rules and Free Speech: U.S. Supreme Court Allows Ku Klux Klan to Adopt a Highway

Aired March 7, 2001 - 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, road rules and free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a request by the state of Missouri and paves the way for the Ku Klux Klan to adopt a highway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER KELLY, KU KLUX KLAN IMPERIAL WIZARD: It's racist of them judging us before they even know us. That's like some Klan groups judging blacks before they know them, judging Jews before they know them, or -- they're judging us before they even know us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The signs, I mean, I just think they're really doing it for publicity, not for the good, so...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To pick up trash.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's clearly embarrassing. It sends a message of discrimination. And we all know discrimination exists in America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how people feel about it. I know how I feel about it. If they want to clean the highway, let them clean it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

This week, the highest court in the land refused to hear a request from the state of Missouri, allowing the knights of the Ku Klux Klan to continue in its Adopt-a-Highway program. Now, the Supreme Court action upholds a lower court ruling. The state had argued that allowing the KKK to clean up the roads forced them to become partners with a racist group.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: But before we discuss this, we're going to go to Lou Waters in Atlanta. (INTERRUPTED BY COVERAGE OF A LIVE EVENT)

COSSACK: Welcome back to BURDEN OF PROOF.

This week, the highest court in the land refused to hear a request from the state of Missouri, allowing the knights of the Ku Klux Klan to continue in its Adopt-a-Highway program. The Supreme Court action upholds a lower court ruling. And the state had argued that allowing the KKK to clean up the roads forced them, the state, to become partners with the racist group.

VAN SUSTEREN: When Missouri lawyers appealed the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, the court ruled they could not refuse the Klan based on its racist ideology. The state was forced to place signs along Interstate 55, identifying a mile as being as adopted by the KKK.

Joining us today from Jefferson City, Missouri, is Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon who is opposed to the Klan's involvement in the program.

COSSACK: And joining us from St. Louis is Robert Herman. Now, he's representing the Klan in this case as a cooperating counsel for the ACLU eastern district of Missouri.

And here in Washington, Will Roser (ph), Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay, and Pete Rowlick (ph).

VAN SUSTEREN: And our back row, Joyne J.J. (ph) and Sylvester Myers (ph). And also joining us from Washington is -- here in Washington is CNN senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer.

Charles, what are the -- what's going on in this case?

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the case that the court declined to hear this week, basically saying that the 8th Circuit ruling is good enough for us. And what the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said is that the first amendment protects everyone, reading out even those with viewpoints as thoroughly obnoxious as those of the Klan. Such interference with the constitutional rights is impermissible.

What the -- what the 8th Circuit also said is that all the reasons that the state raised not to let the Klan adopt this part of the highway were simply pretext...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right.

BIERBAUER: ... based on their viewpoints.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Jay Nixon, you are the attorney general of the state. The first amendment is not absolute. What was the argument of those who are opposed to this?

JAY NIXON, MISSOURI ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, they don't want to pick up trash. And in fact, they attract trash. This has become an area where people come from all round to dump their trash, so that the KKK will be forced to clean it up. This is a hate group.

The contracts and the laws we have in this state don't allow us to contract with people that discriminate. And we shouldn't join in partnership with people that discriminate in public in this fashion. It's the height of hypocrisy. And we can't put up a cross in public. But the groups that burn crosses gets the right to be there.

COSSACK: All right, joining -- I'm sorry -- joining me by telephone is Thomas Robb. Thomas Robb, with the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. Robb, are you -- is your group sponsoring this part of the highway? And will you pick up the trash?

THOMAS ROBB, NATL. DIR. KNIGHTS OF THE KKK: I want to know why Jay Nixon calls us a hate group, because we love our people, love our heritage, and love our culture. I think...

VAN SUSTEREN: Who's your people?

ROBB: I think -- I think he's the hater who...

VAN SUSTEREN: Who's your people, Tom?

ROBB: ... arbitrarily attacks people because if...

COSSACK: Tom, Tom, Tom, listen, are you going to -- let's get down to the -- let's get down to the major issue.

(CROSS TALK)

COSSACK: Are you going to pick up the trash or aren't you?

ROBB: That is the major issue.

COSSACK: No. Are you going to pick up the trash or aren't you? Because...

ROBB: The major issue is whether we are a hate group or not.

COSSACK: ... if you don't put up the trash, you don't get to have your name up there. So are you going to pick up the trash or aren't you?

ROBB: What's your question?

COSSACK: Are you going the pick that trash? I mean, you clean up that highway...

ROBB: Is the state of Missouri -- is the state of Missouri going to follow the dictates of the Supreme Court?

VAN SUSTEREN: All right.

COSSACK: Well, assume that they do, will you pick up that -- can I look to -- can I see you out there picking up that trash?

ROBB: I live in Arkansas.

COSSACK: Oh, OK.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's go to...

(CROSS TALK)

ROBB: If a person -- if a person...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's go to the congressman.

Congressman, will the KKK -- or is the KKK picking up the trash on that part of the highway that they wish to adopt?

REP. LACY CLAY (D), MISSOURI: The KKK is not picking up the garbage nor the trash that has spewed along that section of the highway. However, if they do, they can stay in the program.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why are you -- why are you...

CLAY: I think that the state of Missouri...

VAN SUSTEREN: Why are you in support of the KKK being able to adopt the portion of the highway?

CLAY: Well, because the program does such good for our highways and byways throughout Missouri. So we don't need to throw the entire program out.

VAN SUSTEREN: But what do you make of -- what do you make of Attorney General Nixon's statement, is that a group that wants to put up crosses could adopt -- couldn't do that, but a group that wants to burn crosses can?

CLAY: Well, I have a little difference of opinion with the attorney general on that. Now, we renamed that section of the highway to Rosa Parks Highway. So, therefore, I don't have a problem with the Klan cleaning up Rosa Parks Highway.

COSSACK: Let me just -- let me just -- let me just jump in a second.

Bob, you represented the Klan. You were victorious. Why did you win? What did the court find that you were successful? The state said that it made a public nuisance. Were they unable to prove their case?

ROBERT HERMAN, COUNSEL FOR THE KKK IN THIS CASE: This case always been about the limitations of the first amendment on government. And that says that political speech, hate speech, if you want to call it that, has always been a political issue. And it's no business of the government to make a decision of what speech is correct and what speech isn't.

Any law that would allow the highway department of the state of Missouri to exclude the Klan, because they didn't their speech, would also -- it's the same argument that was used to keep the NAACP out of Alabama just 50 years ago.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I'm sorry, Bob, to interrupt you. I'm sorry to all of our viewers. It's, obviously, a great, fascinating topic. But that's all the time we have for this abbreviated version of BURDEN OF PROOF.

Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

COSSACK: Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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