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Harriet Miers President Bush's Nominee to Replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; New Term Under Way Today, With a New Chief Justice on Bench

Aired October 3, 2005 - 11:32   ET

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


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan. We're just past the half hour. Here's what's happening now in the news.
Sixty-year-old Harriet Miers is President Bush's nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Miers has never been a judge before, but she has strong ties to the president. She's now the White House Counsel and used to be Mr. Bush's personal attorney. She's also a Texan, and was also the first female member of the Texas state bar.

Meanwhile, new Chief Justice John Roberts has started his duties on the supreme court bench. Justice Roberts' investiture, or formal swearing-in ceremony, was held a little more than an hour ago. The 50-year-old jurist replaces the late William Rehnquist, who died one month ago today after a long battle with thyroid cancer.

The U.S. military is releasing few details on the latest death of a U.S. soldier in Iraq. He reportedly died from wounds he suffered from an indirect fire explosion yesterday in Ramadi. So far, 1,939 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq War.

For more on today's Supreme Court nomination, let's bring in attorney Wendy Long. she's a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. She's now legal counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network in Alexandria, Virginia.

Wendy, good morning.

WENDY LONG, JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION NETWORK: Hi, Daryn.

KAGAN: I think the thing that stands out most about Harriet Miers is that she's never been before a judge.

LONG: Yes, buy know, Daryn, it's not all that unusual. I think about a third of the 110 justices who have been nominated in U.S. history didn't have prior judicial experience. So although in recent times it's been more typical to pick from the federal appellate bench, or state supreme courts, it's not all that unusual historically.

KAGAN: So you have some people scratching their heads, you already have some criticism coming out, Democrats who are concerned, with no judicial record, we'll have no way of knowing really know what her views are. Let's talk about that first.

LONG: Well, I think we know. The president has told us, and I think she said, was very interesting in her comments this morning, she pretty clearly signals that she shares his judicial philosophy. And the key to that is, politics is different from judging. They will not legislate from the bench. Her personal and political views are irrelevant. She's just going to very modestly and strictly interpret the constitution and laws. It's a lot of what we heard from John Roberts, but it's the president's judicial philosophy.

KAGAN: Right, because of who she succeeds in Sandra Day O'Connor, who was this important swing vote and such a fascinating justice to follow, a lot of Democrats especially are going to want to know, if they can have their way, what does she think about abortion rights? What does she think about civil rights?

LONG: Right, and I'm quite certain that she is not going to be giving specific answers to questions, like Judge Roberts didn't, from the bench, from the Senator Judiciary Committee hearings. She's going to follow the model that Ruth Bader Ginsburg followed in 1993, and she's not going to indicate in her answers how she might rule in future court cases.

KAGAN: And then there are going to be conservatives, Wendy, that will be disappointed, saying that President Bush missed an opportunity to appoint, to nominate a true conservative, let's say someone like Michael Ludig, who they would be pleased with, that he basically sold out. What do you say to that?

LONG: Well, I think that those who elected the president also trust him, and I think that Harriet is just a lit bit of an unknown quantity to some people. But I think as she becomes better known, more is learned about her, and certainly as she testifies before the committee, I think there will be an increased comfort level with her.

KAGAN: And what has been your interaction with her?

LONG: I've met her during the course of the administration, been in several meetings with her. She's really -- she's a very bright woman, but she's very modest and understated. She's very prudent. She's very discrete. And all those are important qualities for a judge.

KAGAN: We will be watching as this unfolds. As we were watching that event earlier today, you saw Arlen Specter, and Bill Frist and Ted Stevens of Alaska welcoming Harriet Miers to the Senate. The next time she's up there, and we don't have an exact date on confirmation hearings, it might be a very different type of setting. We'll be watching.

Wendy Long, thank you for your expertise on the topic.

LONG: Thanks, Daryn.

KAGAN: Thanks for being with us.

LONG: Thanks.

KAGAN: Well, the new term is under way, today, the first Monday in October, a new chief justice on the bench. Many of the same social and cultural issues persist. The court will hear arguments this week on Oregon's assisted-suicide law. It allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs. The Bush administration wants that law struck down. The justices will decide whether 31 law schools can keep military recruiters off campus. The schools oppose the Armed Forces policies on gays and lesbians. They want a law that would deny them federal funds, they want that thrown out.

And abortion, the court will determine whether racketeering laws can be used to limit anti-abortion protests. Operation Rescue argues that they can't. The group says doing so would violate its right to free speech and assembly.

The court will also hear a second abortion case in November, this one challenging New Hampshire's parental notification law.

Chief national correspondent John King takes a look at that issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Laughter as Amanda playfully orders her brothers around the kitchen. Precious family time at home in New Hampshire before she heads back to college. At 20, ready to begin to her senior year, and to reveal a secret.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had an unplanned pregnancy when I was a young teenager.

KING: For the past six years, a secret known only among a tiny circle of family and friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I decided that it was best for me to have an abortion because I did not want to be a parent at that point in my life.

KING: Sharing her story now, Amanda says, because of the looming Supreme Court test of a New Hampshire law requiring parental notification before a minor can receive an abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These laws are only about eroding access to abortion, that they're not about helping parents, and they're not about helping young women.

BARBARA HAGAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I would prefer that we define human life at the beginning.

KING: State Representative Barbara Hagan is on the other side of the abortion divide. She helped write the law that now hangs as a proud trophy at the New Hampshire Right to Life headquarters.

HAGAN: It's a step forward for us. And it's a crack in the glass. And that makes us very, very hopeful, even though it's a small -- it's a very small, incremental step. KING: But the state's parental notification law has never been enforced because of lower federal court rulings blocking its implementation, decisions the Supreme Court agreed to review in this fall's term.

(on camera): The state's argument, that the law passed here in June 2003 as constitutional, is being watched well beyond New Hampshire's borders. More than 30 states require either parental notification or parental consent before a minor can receive an abortion.

And so the court's decision in this case, its first abortion case in more than five years, will have immediate national ramifications.

(voice-over): The case is by no means a direct challenge to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights. But it is a fresh test in the major political and legal debate in post-Roe abortion battles.

How much leeway do states have in restricting abortion access? A brief filed by anti-abortion legislators who back the New Hampshire law asserts that if the Supreme Court invalidates it, it would in effect overturn every state statute requiring parental notification prior to performing an abortion on a minor.

KAREN PEARL, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Legislating family closeness doesn't usually work. And instead, what we really need to do is make sure that there is protections for young people, for women of all ages.

KING: Planned Parenthood and the ACLU challenged the New Hampshire law on grounds it does not exempt minors with significant health problems from the 48-hour parental notification requirement.

PEARL: It is a case that really does put to question whether women's health and safety will be the law of the land, whether any case that has restrictions on abortion will always have an exception to preserve women's health and safety along with women's life.

KING: On the state's appeal, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte argues the lack of a health exemption is not at odds with the 1992 Supreme Court ruling that states must not create an undue burden or substantial obstacle to abortion access.

The permits immediate abortions if the life of the mother is at stake, and allows doctors to seek an emergency judicial waiver of the notification requirement when there are non-life-threatening health issues.

KELLY AYOTTE, NEW HAMPSHIRE ATTORNEY GENERAL: This judicial bypass provision allows the physician an out. And so it's a safety valve in the statute if this case arises.

KING: If the high court sets a new standard on the question of health exemptions and abortion laws, it could influence the future not only of parental notification and consent laws, but also the contentious legal battle over banning late-term abortions.

President Bush signed a federal ban in November 2003, but it has not taken effect because of legal challenges. The federal law contains no health exemption. And a similar Nebraska state law was declared unconstitutional in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2000.

AYOTTE: It is an opportunity, I think, for the court to provide clarity in this area and hopefully to reduce the number of legal challenges that are brought in this area.

HAGAN: There will be a significant domino effect if New Hampshire's law is struck down, and there is a new court. I think in that instance we will see new challenges to all of the laws that the Supreme Court has already upheld.

KING: With the legal debate, of course, comes an emotional political struggle, not only over abortion, but the line between individual privacy and parent's rights.

HAGAN: I happen to have four children that are minors, in that age frame. And kids make funny decisions. They don't always think. They're still very immature. And I think by giving parents notice, you give them an opportunity to maybe reach out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm really happy and I believe that I will have a family some day and it will be in a context that's right for me with a man who loves me. I would like to tell that person who told me that I would forget that if I had an abortion I would regret it for the rest of my life. I absolutely don't. It absolutely was the right decision for me.

If you want to talk to your parents, then you can do that. But that the state steps in and tells you that you have to do that in order to control your reproduction is very disempowering.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Coming up in the next hour, the court tackles DNA evidence and how it applies to the death penalty.

Meanwhile, big news of the day on the High Court. A new nominee, Harriet Miers. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California commenting on President Bush's selection. And here's what she has to say about Ms. Miers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I see no negatives at this stage in Harriet Miers. But we only know -- I only know her as White House counsel, and as giving the president advice and as helping move through court appointments. And I certainly have no fault with her at all in that capacity. She has served him well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Senator Feinstein, by the way, the last go-round with John Roberts, voted no on his confirmation.

As the Gulf picking up the pieces from Katrina and Rita, there are new predictions about how many new hurricanes will be forming this fall. That story's still ahead.

Up next, also, a check of the financial markets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: The week begins with new signs of recovery in Louisiana. A lot of Catholic schools have re-opened. Classes are underway in St. Tammany and Jefferson Parishes. And students are back at their desks in another Bolgalousa City.

And here's another positive step along the road to recovery for New Orleans. The Army Corps of Engineers says it expects to declare the city dry by tomorrow or Wednesday. Temporary repairs to the levees that failed during Hurricane Rita are finished, and the pumping goes on. The Corps will next focus on levee repairs and in Plaquemine and St. Bernard Parishes.

(STOCK MARKET UPDATE)

KAGAN: All right, Chris, thank you. Now we want to go to upstate New York. This is the NTSB briefing. They're talking about their investigation into what happened on the terrible boat accident. Let's listen in.

MARK ROSENKER, ACTING CHAIR, NTSB: We'd like to offer our condolences to the families that lost loved ones on the Ethan Allen yesterday. We also want to send out our thoughts and prayers to all of those who were on board that vessel. I'd also like to thank Governor Pataki, Congressman Sweeney, all of the state and local officials who have been here to do a great job, the beginning of the process of recovery and also to assist in saving those lives.

I particularly want to thank the Warren County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Larry Cleveland (ph). The New York State Police and their divers, the New York State Park Police, the Warren County Sheriff's Dive Unit, and all of the local responders and those citizens who participated in the rescue. Clearly, their efforts saved lives.

The NTSB is here to do the safety -- the federal safety investigation, where we gather the facts, analyze those facts and determine the probable cause. Ultimately, we'll be issuing a comprehensive report that will also include safety recommendations that will prevent this type of accident from ever happening again.

We arrived on the scene last night from Washington, and began our briefings with the Warren County Sheriff's Department early this morning. We are being provided technical assistance from the United States Coast Guard.

The NTSB team will consist of seven investigators from our Office of Marine Safety. We'll examine the issues such as marine operations, human performance, survival factors, engineering instability, along with staff representing our Transportation Disaster Assistance Group.

We're also going to be dealing with our parties. The party system is where we bring in technical assistance from the operators. In this case, It's Shoreline Cruises, along with the New York state park police. They will be providing technical assistance and knowledge to our investigating team.

Our process is a scientific, methodical approach that will result in a comprehensive final report which details and analyzes the facts, and ultimately determines that probable cause and the recommendations, as I said earlier, to prevent this type of accident from happening either here or anywhere else in the United States.

The next step in this accident right now is the recovery of the Ethan Allen. That's going on, probably about an hour. At that point, we'll be doing another briefing later this afternoon to be able to give you some additional details. I'll be doing that with Sheriff Cleveland.

At this moment, I'd like to introduce Congressman Sweeney.

REP. JOHN SWEENEY (R), NEW YORK: Thank you for being here.

Last evening at our press briefing, we said that we were going to ensure that the most comprehensive investigation and look into the circumstances of yesterday afternoon's tragic incident on Lake George was going to occur. The NTSB and Commissioner Rosenker being here is an example of that comprehensive nature.

At this point, we know a few things more than we knew yesterday. The number was 47 passengers on the vessel, 20 of whom now are deceased, 27 survivors; seven of those survivors, as of this morning, remain in the hospital. The families are being brought in from Michigan. Governor Pataki and his people have been in contact with their counterparts in Michigan to contact the families. At this particular point, all but one family has been contacted by Michigan authorities.

This is an incredibly tragic occurrence for awful us, especially in this area, but really, truly, throughout the United States.

I want to commend Sheriff Cleveland for his real hands-on professional involvement and role in leading this investigation. I want to commend the New York State Police for their coordinating efforts. I want to commend the people at Glens Falls Hospital, who as you all know, went to code yellow yesterday upon being notified that the accident had occurred, and performed in remarkable fashion.

I want to commend the people along the lake, both on the shoreline and those who were in the water, for their incredibly important heroic acts in saving lives. There were real lives.

Statements continue to be gathered by the investigators of the various agencies that are involved. I have every confidence that we will know in shorter than longer order, what happened here, why it happened. We will look forward to the NTSB's expert, professional findings as well. So that as the commissioner said, this kind of an occurrence won't happen again. We are going to remain hands-on throughout -- we being all of the partners involved here, to make sure -- and the people involved here in particular, will know at the end of this, what happened, why it happened and how it can be prevented. We owe that to them, and we intend to do that.

And with that, I'll open it up to any questions.

ROSENKER: Thank you, Congressman.

QUESTION: Do you know what might have caused the wave as the...

ROSENKER: It's much too early to determine what happened out on that lake.

When we bring the vessel up today -- before we actually bring it up, there will be documentation of the vessel on the floor, cameras, diagrams, verbal description. We'll bring that vessel up. At that point, additional documentation will occur. Our engineering professionals will go through that. The vessel will be towed to a secure location where we will go through that vessel with a fine-tooth comb, I assure you.

QUESTION: Have you spoken with the pilot?

ROSENKER: The NTSB has had some preliminary discussions some preliminary interviews. We will do a full interview tomorrow.

SWEENEY: Let me just caution everybody, too, not to jump to conclusions. There are a lot of perspectives that have been gathered. It was fairly obvious last evening, even talking to the survivors, some have different versions than others. And I think, we really now, this notion that we have brought every resource to bear and will bring every resource to bear, federal, state and local, to be coordinated, we will get to the truth, because the experts have experience at this. So we really need to caution against jumping to final conclusions here.

QUESTION: You have been able to review the safety and...

ROSENKER: All of that documentation has been requested, and that will be part of our investigation. It will be thoroughly analyzed, and we will understand very well the condition of that vessel before it went out.

QUESTION: Are you going to be looking at the training requirements to become a pilot in this state, and whether or not the certification process and the recertification process is adequate as it stands now?

ROSENKER: We will be looking at all factors, both the training, the human factors, the history of this particular captain, this particular pilot. We'll be taking a look at the rules and regulations he operates under. It will be, trust me, a very thorough and a very comprehensive investigation. QUESTION: Is the fact that you had this many passengers on board with just one crew member on a board this size, is that a concern at all?

ROSENKER: We'll be looking at that as well. Perhaps there are some additional issues that we need to look at for additional crew. But it is clearly much too early to begin to see if one person, or two people or three people could have prevented this accident. Nothing is off the table.

Nothing is ruled out yet.

I'm sorry.

We'll be looking at that. The NTSB believes that we have recommendations out for PFDs for children up to the age of 12. At this point, we're also believing that when you go on a vessel, you should use a PFD, but we'll be looking at all of that. There are no rules, I believe, in the state of New York that require that. We'll be looking at that as well.

QUESTION: In terms of this class of vessel, have you been able to get a (INAUDIBLE) nationwide in terms of the safety record?

ROSENKER: We haven't examined the history of this vessel or anything that's manufactured similar to that design.

KAGAN: All right, that would be a good place for us to cut away from that news conference. Lake George in Upstate New York. The NTSB and local Congressman holding a news conference about the investigation into the sinking of the Ethan Allen, a tour boat carrying 47 senior citizens, 47 people, actually, most of them senior citizens, yesterday, when it turned over. Still a big question about what made that happen. They do know that 20 people died in that accident, 27 people were injured.

More ahead from the NTSB later today. Our news continues here on CNN at the top of the hour, after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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