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President Nominates Samuel Alito to Succeed Sandra Day O'Connor as Associate Justice on Supreme Court

Aired October 31, 2005 - 11:31   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A live picture of the White House coming in on this day. The president nominating Samuel Alito to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor as the associate justice on the Supreme Court. The swing vote at stake right now.
Let's bring in some analysis of what's going on. Lanny Davis was the Clinton White House special counsel. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Dick Thornburgh is here as well, the former Bush attorney general, the Bush being from the first Bush administration way back, George Herbert Walker Bush. Thanks, guys, very much for joining us.

I want to get to Samuel Alito in a moment. But Dick Thornburgh, you've had a chance to digest the indictment of Scooter Libby, the indictment on Friday. He's going to be making his first court appearance on Thursday. His arraignment, we're told, he might be getting a new attorney here in Washington. Joe Tate, his Philadelphia-based attorney, might continue on the case, but they're looking for a high-powered criminal defense attorney in Washington. What are your thoughts?

DICK THORNBURGH, (R) FMR. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, this is kind of like the old "Sherlock Holmes" tale, "The Dog That Didn't Bark," is the most significant thing. It appears that after 22 months of investigation, as of now, that no crime was committed in the disclosure of Valerie Plame's CIA status, and I think that's significant. We have serious charges brought against Mr. Libby. No one should denigrate the importance of people testifying truthfully and not interfering with investigations. But that's out in the realm of allegations, and now we'll have a trial.


LANNY DAVIS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It comes down to proving somebody's intent, that he intentionally lied, as opposed to making an honest mistake. It seems to be undisputed that the story he told about what he said to the reporters were contradicted by the three reporters.

The question is, was it an innocent mistake, or did he intentionally lie? Proving intent is very tough for a prosecutor. And you can only do it indirectly; you can't get into somebody's mind. So we have to wait to see what Mr. Libby says is the reason for these inconsistencies.

BLITZER: You're a long-time Washington attorney. You've been with some of the most powerful firms, Lanny, here in Washington. And I know it's hard for lawyers to criticize other lawyers, but Karl Rove, who was not indicted on anything on Friday, has a well-known Washington lawyer. Scooter Libby has a well-known Philadelphia lawyer. Is there an issue here that one maybe had a different strategy going into this than the other?

DAVIS: I don't know Mr. Tate, but I wonder about the letter that Mr. Libby wrote and why Mr. Tate let him write the letter.

BLITZER: The letter to Judith Miller?

DAVIS: The letter to Judith Miller in which he kind of says at then end, we hope you come back and we have interconnected roots. It certainly seemed like a letter that was suggesting to Judith Miller that they tell the same story. I do know Bob Luskin. He's a former law partner of mine who represents Karl Rove. There's nobody better and getting a story our and letting a prosecutor know that you tell everything, and the prosecutor at least trusts that you're telling the truth. I have a feeling that did Mr. Rove very well by Mr. Luskin's strategy.

THORNBURGH: There was apparently also a key visit by Karl Rove to the prosecutor and to the grand jury to explain some of the ambiguities that had surrounded his previous testimony, and that counts for something.

BLITZER: Let me move on to the Samuel Alito nomination, Attorney General Thornburgh. First to you, you thought Harriet Miers should have at least been allowed to testify, to have her up-or-down vote. What do you make of this decision by the president to pick Judge Alito?

THORNBURGH: Well, it's a very solid choice. I know Sam Alito. I served with him in the Department of Justice. He was widely respected.

BLITZER: He worked for you when you were the attorney general?

THORNBURGH: He was the U.S. attorney in New Jersey. He's intellectually gifted. He's conservative, no surprise, but he's not an ideologue, and he's served 15 years on the bench. He had unanimous support from the Senate for his confirmation to the court of appeals. And I like to say he is, as he was described by Senator Frank Lautenberg at the time, I'm quoting, "The kind of judge the public deserves, one who is impartial, thoughtful and fair."

BLITZER: Being a liberal Democratic senator from New Jersey, Lanny, correct me if I'm wrong, you went to Yale Law School as well. Did you know Judge Alito when he was at Yale? He's a little younger than you are.

DAVIS: A little younger, and I certainly like the law school that he went to. I'm very troubled about this nomination, however. I certainly have an open mind, but I start out being very troubled that the president should choose to rollover what he clearly is going to have a divisive fight here by nominating somebody who disagrees with Sandra Day O'Connor on where the line should be drawn on choice and on undue burden standards. In dissent in a decision in a Pennsylvania law case, Judge Alito ruled in a way that was overturned by a vote by Sandra Day O'Connor. That is giving red meat to the right, and it's also red meat to the left, causing a very divisive confirmation process, which I do not believe President Bush was well advised to encourage.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation. Thanks, guys, very much, for joining us, Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh. We're standing by to hear directly from Senator Ted Kennedy, a member of the Judiciary Committee. He'll be speaking with us. That's coming up.

We're following a developing story out of the United Nations Security Council on Syria. We'll have all of that when our special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM continues.


BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, a member of the Judiciary Committee on President Bush's decision today to nominate Judge Samuel Alito to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. We'll go to Senator Kennedy very soon.


BLITZER: We're going to continue our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're standing by to hear directly from Senator Ted Kennedy, a member of the Judiciary Committee. How does he feel about Samuel Alito succeeding Sandra Day O'Connor? Our interview with Senator Kennedy in THE SITUATION ROOM coming up.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Remember, we're standing by to interview Senator Ted Kennedy of the Judiciary Committee. He'll be joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM very soon. But how is the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel Alito playing online? Let's check in with our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton for that -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, both sides taking the fight to the Web very early on this morning with the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Progress for America, conservative advocacy group, was ready to go with this site,, supporting this nominee. On the left, People for the American Way already have a preliminary document, and also urging their readers to oppose this nominee, and ways to do so on their Web site.

Bloggers, too, conservatives who would oppose Harriet Miers really rallying around this nominee. On the left, they are doing research. That was Redstate on the right, and Think Progress here on the left.

Now it's interesting to note that with the nomination of John Roberts earlier, we didn't really see too much of an intense battle online with that nominee. With the nomination of Harriet Miers all the intensity was between conservatives. With this one it seems that the left and the right are clearly drawing the battle lines -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you very much.

Let's get some more now on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, two guests. Nan Aron is the president of the Alliance for Justice. Helgi Walker is a former associate White House counsel, former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Nan Aaron, I suppose you're not very pleased about this nomination.

NAN ARON, PRESIDENT, ALLIANCE FOR JUSTICE: We're not. This is a very grim day for the Supreme Court and the country. We believe that President Bush consulted one segment of American society instead of the United States Senate, and that was the radical right.

BLITZER: But don't you think this man deserves a fair chance to make his case during confirmation hearings and to get an up-and-down vote?

ARON: We certainly look forward, and we want the American people to hear what he thinks, and his beliefs are, his views on a number of issues, but we believe at the end of the day he will be defeated, and defeated not just by Democrats, but Republicans as well.

BLITZER: Defeated by 51-49?

ARON: It's too early to say.

BLITZER: You're talking about majority, or are you looking forward to a filibuster?

ARON: No, we're hoping that Republicans will join Democrats in defeat by 51 votes. If need be, we can consider, and they'll certainly consider, other alternatives. But the fact of the matter is he is filling the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate justice, a justice in favor of women's rights, civil rights. He's not the right one.

BLITZER: Helgi, I suspect you have a very different perspective.

HELGI WALKER, FMR. ASSOC. WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, I respectfully disagree with Nan. I care, like she does, about equal opportunity for all people, including women. And Sam Alito has a distinguished record of public service where he's made clear his commitment to equal opportunity for all people. And that is a track record that is very clear, that really ought to make all people feel comfortable.

He mentioned this morning in his remarks when the president nominated him that he is especially moved and motivated by the inscription over the Supreme Court that talks about equal justice for all. That is the kind of person that he is, and that's the kind of judge he's been for the last 15 years. I think the American people can know that he will be a fair and an impartial judge, as the two Democrat senators from New Jersey said in 1990.

BLITZER: Are you disappointed, though, that the president didn't pick a woman?

WALKER: I think the president has made this decision within his constitutional power under Article II. That article commits that decision to his exclusive discretion. And I think Judge Alito is wonderfully, exceptionally qualified, and will be a great Supreme Court justice.

BLITZER: Helgi Walker, Nan Aron, the fight, I suspect, only just beginning. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: When we come back, we'll hear directly from Senator Ted Kennedy. He's standing by in THE SITUATION ROOM. His thoughts on Samuel Alito. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're learning more about the SUPREME COURT nominee, federal appellate judge, Samuel Alito. CNN's Daryn Kagan runs down Judge Alito's educational background, which would put him in company on the bench with other Ivy Leaguers.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Judge Samuel Alito graduated from Princeton in 1972. And three years later, he received his law degree from Yale. Harriet Miers got both her bachelor's and law degrees from Southern Methodist University.

Now, it's certainly not a requirement, but coming from the Ivy League could help Judge Alito fit in on the high court. If Alito is confirmed, eight out of the nine Supreme Court justices would have Ivy League law degrees, five of them from Harvard. Justice John Paul Stevens is the only exception. He got his law degree from Northwestern University.

Sandra Day O'Connor by the way was not an Ivy Leaguer either. She received her law degree from Stanford.


BLITZER: Samuel Alito nominated today by the president to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme court.

Much more of our coverage on this special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.


BLITZER: We're learning much more about the president's pick for the next Supreme Court justice.

CNN's Brian Todd has this.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Judge Alito's legal credentials are certainly impressive, but what most legal analysts are looking at right now is what he brings to the court ideologically. And in that regard, some interesting comparisons are already being made.


TODD (voice-over): Fifty-five-year-old Samuel A. Alito is held in high regard by many conservatives, has history with the president's family and is often compared to Justice Antonin Scalia. In fact, he's been nicknamed "Scalito," or "Little Nino," for his Italian background and ideological likeness to Scalia. In a 1991 case, Alito was the only dissenting voice on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals when it struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring women to notify their husbands if they plan to get an abortion.

Alito is a New Jersey native, A 1975 Yale Law School graduate, and rose through the assistant attorney ranks of the U.S. Department of Justice before being nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 to be a U.S. attorney in New Jersey.

In 1990, he was named by President Bush's father to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and has been there ever since.

Now, the nominee selected to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor recalls a connection to her as well, from 1982 when he argued his first case before the Supreme Court.

JUDGE SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I argued my first case before the Supreme Court in 1982, and I still vividly recall that day. I remember the sense of awe that I felt when I stepped up to the lectern. And I also remember the relief that I felt when Justice O'Connor, sensing, I think, that I was a rookie, made sure the first question that I was asked was a kind one.

TODD: Alito has earned exemplary reviews from the legal community, but his conservatism may spark an ideological battle for confirmation. And for that, Alito says, he draws great strength from his wife, Martha, and their two children.


BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill. Senator Ted Kennedy is watching all of this.

You put out a statement expressing your disappointment. Does that mean automatically, Senator, you're going to vote against him?

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No, it doesn't. But it means that we're going to have a full and complete and a fair hearing.

I listened to the judge. He referred to Justice O'Connor. I think it's important to remember that this is going to be the successor for Justice O'Connor.

Justice O'Connor was approved unanimously by the United States Senate. She cast over 143 5-4 decisions that continued us along the march to progress.

My concern is that this nomination was more out of weakness rather than strength. We know that it was sort of the extreme right wing of the president's own party that sank the previous nominee.

I think many of us want to know why they are so ecstatically happy today. What do they know that the rest of the either judiciary and the American people don't know?

So we'll have a good opportunity to get to this. But it's certainly -- there are certainly serious questions about this nominee.

BLITZER: His intellect is not under any doubt. Is this a nomination that you think is worthy potentially of filibuster?

KENNEDY: There isn't really sort of a question about his intellect. I actually introduced him some 15 years ago, before he went onto the circuit court.

But we have to have an opportunity to examine his record as a member of that circuit court and find out whether he is going to be really in the mainstream of thinking on the wide variety of different issues, whether it's women's rights, civil rights, whether it's the First Amendment, whether it's the power of the Congress to deal with many of the issues that we're facing in this country, and the 14th Amendment, and also in the commerce clause. So this is going to be very important.

No one questions that he is -- he's able and he's gifted. The real question is, will he be a part of the continued march for progress in this country or whether he's going to be a stumbling block.

I don't think Americans want to refight old battles. Too many tears, too many lives have been lost as we have fought to knock down the walls of discrimination on the basis of race or on gender, on disability.

We've made remarkable progress in this country on these issues. And I think it's enormously important that we have a member of the Supreme Court who's going to be committed to those core continued values.

BLITZER: What about a filibuster, though, Senator? Are you ready to rule it out?

KENNEDY: I don't hear any talk about it. What I do hear talk about, it's only a few hours old, is that we're going to have good hearings. Extensive. They're going to be fair hearings. I think I feel sorry for Ms. Miers who really never got a chance to have a hearing, let alone have a vote and was pillared for her alleged views. This is going to be done in a dignified way and a fair way. And hopefully, the American people have a good idea about where this juror stands.

We, under the Constitution, the president has the responsibility to nominate. But under the Constitution, we're not rubber stamps. We have to exercise an independent judgment.

And the American people ought to be a part of that process. We'll get to it very soon, but we have to have the time to be able to prepare.

BLITZER: One final question: When do you think the earliest that the chairman could hold these hearings before the Judiciary Committee could start taking place?

KENNEDY: Well, the average time -- I've been to 21 of these confirmation hearings -- the average time for the last six or eight have been probably over a little over two months before they got started.

And then the process moved along really quite rapidly once the process got started. I think you can save a lot of time, if you have the time to do the adequate preparation in the beginning. This will be an issue that will be worked out between Senator Specter and Senator Leahy.

BLITZER: Senator Kennedy, thanks for joining us.

And we'll be back here in the THE SITUATION ROOM later today, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, for more high-level reaction to the president's new Supreme Court pick. We'll talk with other top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including the number-two Republican, Senator Orrin Hatch.

Plus, we'll also speak with Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. And a central figure in the CIA leak story, the former U.S. ambassador Joe Wilson, speaks out about the indictment of Lewis Libby and the outing of his wife as a CIA operative. That's coming up as well later today. In addition to our regular THE SITUATION ROOM from 3:00-6:00 p.m. Eastern, a special edition at 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"LIVE FROM" with Kyra Phillips starts right now.


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