Return to Transcripts main page

AMERICAN MORNING

North Korea Fires More Missiles; Inside Pakistan's Swat Valley; Lifting the Veil on North Korea; Obama to Announce Supreme Court Pick; Uncle Sam Wants to Employ You

Aired May 26, 2009 - 08:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And once again, good morning. And welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. It's Tuesday, May 26. I'm Kiran Chetry.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes sitting in this morning. Top of the hour here.

We're following breaking news out of North Korea. Yes, again out of North Korea.

The secretive state fired two more missiles into its eastern coast just hours ago. This is according to media reports out of South Korea. It's five miles -- or five missiles, I should say, in two days, along with the country's apparent nuclear test.

President Obama called the test, quote, "a blatant violation of international law." The president also promising the leaders of Japan and South Korea the U.S. will protect them if North Korea decides to strike.

Also this morning, a rare look into the conditions Pakistanis fleeing the violence between government forces and Taliban militants are having to endure. CNN is on the ground talking to those who are on the move.

Also this morning, California's controversial Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage hangs in the balance. In just a few hours, the much anticipated ruling from the state Supreme Court. We'll tell you what both sides are expecting.

But we continue now with that breaking news. A defiant North Korea ignoring the outrage of world leaders and reportedly firing two more short-range missiles overnight. As the tension grows, the global standoff quickly escalating. In just a few hours, the United Nations Security Council scheduled to meet again to work on imposing new sanctions.

Earlier, Kiran spoke to Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations about North Korea's actions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: That North Korea is on a path that is isolating itself even further that doesn't serve their own interests, nor the interest of the region. If they want to continue to test and provoke the international community, they're going to find that they will pay a price because the international community is very clear this is not acceptable, it won't be tolerated and they won't be intimidated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Barbara Starr has dialed into her sources at the Pentagon.

Barbara, good morning to you, again.

This sounds like deja vu all over again. The world reacts, North Korea just keeps on doing what North Korea is going to do. What are the options here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the options are jaw-boning, talking diplomacy, T.J. Here at the Pentagon, they're making it very clear there are no plans for any military action. That said, there are actually two U.S. airplanes flying today. They are very classified missions.

These are the WC-135s. They're called, the Constant Phoenix. What are these two aircraft up there doing? They are collecting the air samples over the region. They will provide the first clues about what exactly did happen. They collect the air samples. They look for any evidence of radioactive gas or radioactive particulates in the air that will begin to give the U.S. Intelligence community the real answer about what happened underground in North Korea. So the technical work goes on, but no military options, we are told.

U.S. forces continue to be in the region. Ground, air and naval forces, but they're going to stick with what they have and all sights are really now on the diplomatic channel -- T.J.

HOLMES: And Barbara, we're talking about the new information about the new missile test. But, still, what else are we still trying to learn at least, and what else are we getting about the nuclear test that was just on Sunday night?

STARR: Well, once they get this analysis done of what air samples they collect -- and that may take a few days -- there will be a much better understanding of what happened. The international community will then know what it's dealing with.

But, you know, there are a couple of little tidbits that now are beginning to emerge. This underground seismic rumbling that occurred similar to an earthquake, it was actually picked up by a ground station as far away as Texas. A Texas ground station picking up that activity. It shows you the, you know, worldwide assessment that is going on.

And what we also know is that North Korea did notify the world, if you will, to the United States, that it was going to conduct an underground test. They gave no time frame. It turned out, T.J., that notification came one hour before the test happened -- T.J.

HOLMES: All right. Barbara Starr for us from the Pentagon. Thank you this morning.

STARR: Sure.

CHETRY: And President Obama is calling the leaders of both South Korea and Japan, promising that the U.S. would step in if North Korea decided to attack. The White House also was swift to condemn Pyongyang.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world, and I strongly condemn their reckless action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: The United Nations Security Council also issuing a stinging response, saying that North Korea's actions are a clear violation of international law.

HOLMES: And we'll be following the North Korea story with our guests and correspondents all morning long. Coming up in less than ten minutes, we'll talk to George Mason, a man who's harnessing the power of the Internet to uncover the secretive world of North Korea.

CHETRY: Also this morning, we're following a developing story out of Pakistan. CNN is on the ground as Pakistani forces step up military offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. The street-to-street fighting triggering an exodus that's flooding refugee camps. Now the terrorist fighters are urging those who have left the region to come home.

Here's CNN's Dan Rivers in Islamabad with a rare look at some of the firsthand accounts from refugees who have managed to escape some of the fiercest fighting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN RIVERS, CNN BANGKOK CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, hundreds of thousands of people continue to stream out of the Swat Valley as the Pakistan army tries to press home its advantage. It's trying to take the strategically important town of Mingora, which is at the mouth of this valley.

Normally, that's home to about 375,000 people. Many of them have fled and many have ended up in refugee camps that we visited. We went to one refugee camp, Jalozai camp to the east of Peshawar. Home to 93,000 people. They are getting food, they are getting water, but conditions are pretty miserable.

Meanwhile, we've had some very vivid accounts of people who have just left the fighting and have got in touch with us here in the bureau in Islamabad. They've given us some fairly chilling accounts of what's going on there. They are saying that all of swat is like a battlefield. One man told us it seems as if death is lurking everywhere.

He says the army has been bombing civilian areas with jets and helicopters, and there's continuous around-the-clock shelling. He says the Taliban are using locals as human shields, and they've infiltrated civilian populations and shooting from their midst.

He says in retaliation, the army is firing back without differentiating between militants and noncombatants. So that gives you an idea of the terrible conditions they're enduring. Electricity has been cut off for some time. Food and water is in short supply. And the temperature here during the middle of the day is very, very hot indeed, about 40 degrees centigrade, getting on for about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Many the people streaming into the camps are suffering from dehydration and from heat stroke. Dan Rivers, CNN, Islamabad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Also new this morning, a story that's most popular on cnn.com.

The daughter of former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson fighting for her life after a freak accident at home in Phoenix. Authorities say the 4-year-old -- named as Exodus Tyson. She was playing around on a treadmill when she apparently was choked by a cable attached to that machine. She's said to be in extremely critical condition and on life support.

HOLMES: Illinois health officials reporting a death in the Chicago area from swine flu. It's the 12th confirmed death in the U.S. from the H1N1 swine flu virus. They say the victim did have other medical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report more than 6700 swine flu cases in the U.S.

And Mexico has a message -- you all can home back. Swine flu fears have scared away tourists, and hotel occupancies are now at a record low according to the Associated Press. So the Mexican government is spending $90 million in ads using celebrities to lure tourists back.

So with the rich and beautiful and famous feel-good there and feel safe, then so should you.

CHETRY: There you go.

All right. Well, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton surprised Yale University's graduating class. She picked up an honorary degree at the same time. The school's tradition is to keep the names of the honorary degree recipients a secret. The graduates erupted into cheers when Clinton was introduced. She earned her law degree from the Ivy League school 36 years ago. So congratulations to her.

Well, this morning, the Internet is empowering some ordinary folks to uncover secrets across the landscape of North Korea. It's pretty fascinating, this notion of citizen spies. And we're going to talk to one of them about what he's learned about the reclusive nation.

HOLMES: Yes. That's Curtis Melvin we'll be talking to coming up in just a little bit.

CHETRY: Also this morning, people on both sides of the Prop 8 debate holding their breath. The California state Supreme Court expected to rule on the same-sex marriage ban in just a few hours.

It's 10 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: New this morning -- hoping that green generates green. Four billion dollars from the economic stimulus package will be used to create green jobs. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan will make the announcement today. The money will be used to hire and train people to make public housing more energy efficient.

Well, if you have a teen, you know they love to text, on average, sending and receiving more than 2,200 messages every month. The quick communication craze, though, may be taking a toll. According to today's "New York Times," they talked with physicians and psychologists who say that too much texting can lead to anxiety, poor grade, sleep deprivation and stress injuries.

Twitter TV? The social networking service says it's developing a television show based on the site. The show will put players on the trail of celebrities in an interactive-competitive format.

HOLMES: Oh, great.

CHETRY: What will they think of next?

HOLMES: Yes.

All right. Let's turn back to our top story now. We're talking about North Korea once again defying the international community, overnight reportedly launching two more missiles. North Korea is already one of the most isolated countries in the world. But now, some are taking advantage of online satellite images to unlock the mysteries of the secretive country.

Curtis Melvin is the creator of "North Korea Uncovered." He's also a student at George Mason University where he's working toward his doctorate in economics.

Good morning to you, Curtis. Economics doesn't seem to go with this current project you have of "North Korea Uncovered." Tell me how this thing got started.

CURTIS MELVIN, CREATOR, "NORTH KOREA UNCOVERED": Well, good morning. It's a pleasure to be with you.

I started this program a couple of years ago after my own trips to North Korea in 2004 and 2005. And I wanted to locate the places I went as just sort of a personal memento. But then curiosity got the better of me and I continued scouring over maps of North Korea, books on North Korea and began interviewing other people who had been to or visited North Korea.

And the project has really emerged into an amazing map of not only their transportation and electrical infrastructure but also their military infrastructure, elite compounds. And we've really been able to learn a lot.

HOLMES: And, Curtis, you've got thousands of sites on here. And not all of these necessarily have you -- certainly not been to or put together yourself. People start sending in their information as well. And that's why you were able to put together such an expansive map.

MELVIN: That's exactly correct. And it's really the great thing about the Internet today is we can bring together people who have their own experiences with North Korea, who were scattered across the planet. And they can contact me. We can update things. We can check people's information against other people's information and against maps. And it's really allowed us to create just a whole new way of looking at the country that previously didn't exist.

HOLMES: And what I know a lot of people are interested in, maybe what Kim Jong-Il is up to, maybe some of those missile sites, maybe some of those launching places. You have mapped just about everything. A variety here. Let's share with our viewers some of what you've done.

The first I'm going to put up is actually a water slide that you were able to locate. We can show this map here. But it gives a little detail there. And you could see some water around there. You don't see anybody going down the water slide necessarily. But, still, these are the types of things -- why is it important that maybe some of the big sites, it seems a lot of people are interested in, but something as simple as a water slide in North Korea?

MELVIN: Well, it's really quite common for the political elites in many developing countries, especially in former communist countries, to live in their own secluded compound. They have high standards of living, even by Western standards.

And so what we see on Google Earth now is actual visual footage of this. This is the only residence in North Korea with a water slide. There's a couple of public water slides available, but they're not nearly as elaborate. And this is actually a very large one. And it sort of symbolizes the gulf between the ordinary people and the political elites in the country.

HOLMES: All right. Well, Curtis Melvin is the name. "North Korea Uncovered" is the name of it. Several more we'd like to spend with you. We got some breaking news we need to get to. But, Curtis, we appreciate your time, buddy.

MELVIN: All right. Good luck.

CHETRY: And that breaking news is word confirmed by the D.C. bureau this morning that the White House will announce a Supreme Court nomination at 10:15 a.m. Our Jim Acosta has been working details of this.

We expected it to come, but now we're hearing a firm time on when we can know who this nominee is, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kiran. We were hearing all last week and over the weekend that this nominee was going to be announced as early as today and perhaps later this week. But we have confirmed with the White House that that announcement is coming at 10:15 this morning.

And there's a list of four candidates that appear to be at the top of the list right now. "The New York Times" reporting four names at this point. We here at CNN are looking at three names. Let's show you some of those candidates right now that we understand are at the top of the list.

One of those candidates is Sonia Sotomayor. She is a judge with the Appellate Court in the southern district of New York. She was appointed by President George H.W. Bush back in 1992 and then elevated to the appellate bench by President Clinton.

Diane Wood is also an appeals court judge in Chicago. She was a law professor at the University of Chicago. You can see there she's 59 years old. She's considered one of the big favorites because she is considered by many liberals as one of them. And, so, a heavy favorite among liberals in the Democratic Party. So, Diane Wood there, one of the candidates.

Elena Kagan is the current solicitor general. She has no judicial experience but was the dean of the Harvard Law School for many years. And so she is also at the top of this list. Conservatives -- and we reported this earlier this morning -- are targeting Elena Kagan because she has no experience on the bench.

And then one other candidate that has emerged in the final days here. And that is the governor of Arizona, who is now the Homeland Security secretary, no longer governor of Arizona -- Janet Napolitano. So, we are waiting to hear from the White House exactly who that nominee will be from the president. And that announcement is expected at 10:15 later this morning - Kiran.

CHETRY: It's interesting, because there were some who said that perhaps this decision wouldn't come today. He's leaving today, right? He's heading to Cairo and he's going to be overseas for a couple of days before returning to the White House.

ACOSTA: Right. So, he is just getting this under the wire here. And the president has said as early as this past weekend that he would like a nominee who has sort of a common touch. And a lot of people are reading the tea leaves and wondering if that means Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

She is a Puerto Rican. She would be the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court. She grew up in a housing project in New York City. And so she's one of those up from the bootstraps types. And so a lot of people in Washington wondering if that was a hint that Sonia Sotomayor is the nominee.

And what's interesting about that particular candidate is that she was nominated, as we just mentioned, by George H.W. Bush. And so there are some political rumblings that perhaps she would have some cover on Capitol Hill in that she might not draw so much fire from the Republicans if she were, in fact, nominated to the bench - Kiran.

CHETRY: Sorry, I rushed his schedule a little bit. He's heading on a trip out west today, right? He's going to be in Nevada.

ACOSTA: That's right, yes. I was...

CHETRY: I'm sorry about that.

ACOSTA: That's right, yes.

CHETRY: And then he's heading to Egypt, Germany and France, that begins June 3rd. So, plenty of time in between for all of this to be discussed, as you had just talked about earlier in the show.

Already -- he hasn't even announced the pick yet and already there are opposition ads going up about some of the names that have even been thrown out there.

ACOSTA: That's right. There's a Web site up and running right now, Obamasfrontrunners.com. It has been put up there by a woman who was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who went through his own bruising nomination fight. So, the conservatives -- there are some conservatives who appear to be instilling for a fight.

And you mentioned that swing that President Obama has coming up. He's heading out to Nevada to help campaign for Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and who has a tough re-election campaign on his hand.

And it's interesting to note that Senate Majority Leader Reid would like to see President Obama name a governor or somebody with executive experience sort of like Earl Warren, the former chief justice of Supreme Court, who was the governor of California and is seen as one of the sort of boilerplate Supreme Court justices in that he came from a law background -- he was the attorney general in California before becoming governor of California.

But many senators, influential senators, would like to see President Obama name somebody who is not exactly a judge. And so when you hear President Obama talk about a common touch, that might also mean somebody who has been a politician. And Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, now the Homeland Security secretary, has that down.

CHETRY: All right.

ACOSTA: So, you can read the tea leaves in that direction as well - Kiran.

CHETRY: And we will know for sure in less than two hours. Again, you guys in the D.C. bureau confirming just moments ago that the White House will announce a Supreme Court nomination pick. This will be coming at 10:15 a.m. You can catch it, of course, here on CNN and CNN.com.

Jim Acosta, thanks.

We'll take a quick break. It's 22 minutes past the hour. AMERICAN MORNING will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: There's been a lot of speculation about who the president will pick as the nominee to replace the outgoing Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Well, we don't know that for sure yet, but we do know when he will make that announcement -- under two hours from now. CNN's Jim Acosta being able to confirm just moments ago that the White House will announce a Supreme Court nomination at 10:15 a.m. Eastern time this morning. And, of course, we'll have it live for you here on CNN and CNN.com.

HOLMES: Meanwhile, new college graduates are facing an extremely tough job market these days. So, with the president looking for young people to serve, no surprise, plenty of grads are considering taking a job with Uncle Sam. Jason Carroll with today's report in a special series "Life After Graduation."

Good morning to you, sir.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you.

You know, it's sort of an open secret with a lot of graduates out there. There are more than 46,000 government jobs available worldwide. That's a lot of opportunity, but there is also a lot of competition. And the application process is not the easiest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice over): Thousands of college graduates are saying farewell. Adam Stanisic's message to his classmates? Be optimistic about the future.

ADAM STANISIC, UNIVERSITY OF HARTFORD GRADUATE: Have faith in one another. I still think it's a great time to be a graduate.

CARROLL: The reality? The timing is not so good for graduates. The economic downturn means fewer are finding jobs.

STANISIC: If you were to take a small group of my friends, you'd see that maybe only one or two of them are walking into a job after graduation.

CARROLL (on camera): That's out of how many?

STANISIC: I'd say out of maybe 20, 30 students.

CARROLL (voice-over): One statistic showing just one in five graduates securing employment upon graduation, but there is one place where there are thousands of jobs.

SHAUN DONOVAN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT: If you've ever thought about doing something on behalf of your country, public service is something you ought to be thinking about.

CARROLL: Over the next four years, 600,000 federal jobs need to be filled. President Obama putting out the call last month.

OBAMA: I ask every American to make an enduring commitment to serving your community and your country in whatever way you can.

CARROLL: The president's message heard loud and clear by some applicants at a government job fair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What better way to live out your life than to serve your country?

CARROLL: Competition for jobs, tough. The number of monthly hits on the government recruiting site, usajobs.com, spiked to 180 million in February. The online application process exposing some young applicants to one thing about government that had turned them off in the past -- red tape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wasted five hours trying to figure out exactly what I was interested in.

CARROLL: Critics say the online recruiting site needs updating and streamlining. One nonprofit tasked with matching talent with government jobs says the administration needs to make quick fixes.

DONOVAN: The hiring process is an obstacle course. And that's a problem because we don't want top talent turned away from government jobs.

CARROLL: Secretary for housing and urban development says there is room for improvement.

DONOVAN: We have to adjust our strategies, and we have to send the message about how important this is to the president.

CARROLL: Despite the process, Adam Stanisic applied for a government job in the intelligence community, for now, forgoing a career in law.

STANISIC: At the end of the day, you feel like your job you're contributing, you're contributing to society.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: Well, the Office of Personnel Management tells CNN they are determined to streamline the hiring process while still insuring safeguards are in place to hire quality candidates. They say they are going to rework the Website as well as that application process.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks so much, Jason. HOLMES: And coming up tomorrow, Allan Chernoff is going to be looking into the employers' market -- how do you make your resume stand out when there are so few jobs and hundreds of resumes piling up on recruiter's desk.

CHETRY: Hang it right on your neck.

HOLMES: Even that, we talked to a young man who did have a resume hanging around his neck this morning. That will be tomorrow here on the Most News in the Morning.

CHETRY: Well, extreme cyber bullying. A Washington State 6th grader the target of a vicious online video posted by her classmates laying out six different ways to kill her. What did the school district do about it? She's back in school now. We're going to talk to her and her mother.

It's 28 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: And that news in to us this morning is that the president will in fact at 10:15 Eastern time come out and tell us who he will be nominating to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice David Souter.

Jim Acosta, let's bring you in from Washington. We keep narrowing down these names. And now we have a name that has emerged. Whose is that?

ACOSTA: T.J., CNN has confirmed, I have just confirmed, that Sonia Sotomayor -- getting this from a White House official -- will be President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court.

Judge Sotomayor now sits on the appellate court in New York. She was a judge in the U.S. district court, in the southern district of New York. That is Manhattan. She was nominated by George H.W. Bush back in 1991 to a seat vacated by John Walker. She was confirmed by the Senate back in 1992 and was elevated to the appellate court by President Clinton in 1997.

As we have been reporting, she would be the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court and the third female Supreme Court justice. And we've been hearing a lot from several senators in Washington, Barbara Boxer being among them. She was on "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday saying that we need to have a woman, another woman on the Supreme Court. So that appears to be the case.

President Obama appears to be ready to announce Sonia Sotomayor as his pick for Supreme Court justice.

And I was just referring back to an article in "The New York Daily News" that was written about a month ago by a colleague of mine, Michael Saul, who I know well. He reports for "The New York Daily News." And he reports that Sonia Sotomayor not only born in a Bronx housing project but is a diehard New York Yankees fan. And so, she is going to bring a lot of interest to this Supreme Court pick, because of her background, because of her personal story.

And we heard President Obama just over the weekend in that C-SPAN interview saying that he wanted somebody with the common touch. And a lot of people were reading into those tea leaves and saying, "Well, does that mean a governor? Is it going to pick Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, who was the governor of Arizona?" She would have a common touch because she's a politician, a governor.

But it appears what President Obama was looking for is somebody who is sort of the up-from-the-bootstraps type of jurist. And he appears to be getting that at this point.

What is very interesting about this Sotomayor pick is that she was originally placed on the bench by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican. So, that could be an indication from the White House to Congress that they don't want a big food fight over this pick. They don't want to see this drag out over the summer. President Obama has said he'd like to see, you know, a confirmation by August.

And while there are some up on Capitol Hill -- Senator Sessions, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has said that's unrealistic. But nevertheless, this appears to be at least a pick that goes in that direction, T.J.

HOLMES: And, Jim, this is a name that kind one of the first names that was put out there when Justice David Souter decided he was going to step down.

ACOSTA: Right.

HOLMES: She is, in a lot of ways, has been the front-runner. But as you were talking to us earlier this morning, already, before you even knew the name, the opposition was starting to put together ads and to be able to attack and go after whoever he would nominate against what has been the knock against her? How is, I guess, the opposition to this pick going to come out and try to attack her?

ACOSTA: Well, what you're hearing from conservative circles is that they see Judge Sotomayor as a liberal j judicial activist. And what does that mean? Well, conservatives have been saying for several years now that they don't want a judicial activist on the bench.

And what they mean by that is somebody who would try to legislate from the bench, write law from the bench instead of interpreting law as it is -- excuse me -- instead of ruling on the law in legislation that is passed by the Congress and signed by the president. They don't want somebody inventing the law, as they might say, from the bench.

And so, that is the knock on Judge Sotomayor from conservatives. And they were saying the same thing about Diane Wood, who was on the appellate court in Chicago and somebody from the University of Chicago. And Elena Kagan -- although she never served on the bench, they had found -- you know, they had found things about Elena Kagan that they did not like during her tenure at Harvard as the dean of the law school there.

But the indication now -- not just an indication but a confirmation from the White House is that it will be Judge Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. That is President Obama's pick.

HOLMES: All right. Jim Acosta live for us in Washington -- we appreciate you this morning, the breaking story and hustling for us. Thanks so much, Jim.

ACOSTA: You bet.

CHETRY: All right. And joining us on the phone right now is Alan Dershowitz. He has argued cases in front of Judge Sotomayor.

You've also been watching this process unfold as the field has been narrowed down. Allan, what do you make of the reporting as we said from Jim Acosta and others that the pick is going to be -- at least the nominee, Sonia Sotomayor?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL (via telephone): Well, it's not a surprise. She was on the short list before. She is a very distinguished circuit court judge. I appeared before her. She's always very well prepared. She's quite opinionated -- very, very bright.

Some people think that she is very, very tough on lawyers. Of course, lawyers like judges who are tough on them. She'll be a kind of moderate to the left but not strong left. I don't think she'll be much of a judicial activist.

She's a centrist with leanings toward the left, having been nominated by a Republican president initially, then promoted by a Democratic president. She will be the sixth, as I understand it, Catholic now on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Six of the nine are of Catholic background, two of the nine of Jewish background, only one protestant will be serving on the United States Supreme Court. That's very, very new in history.

She graduated Yale Law School. She's a New York Yankees fan, which is a big negative in my view. But beyond that, I think she'll be a very good justice.

CHETRY: Also of note, she would be the only Hispanic on the bench as well. What about, you know, the idea of needing gender balance, perhaps racial balance? You just pointed out some of the religious balance on the court. How important is that? DERSHOWITZ: I think it's a terrible mistake to nominate people because their ethnic or gender background because then they come to the court believing that they represent that gender or that ethnicity or that religion. People should be appointed to the court because they are the most distinguished judges available. And I think that this judge fits that criteria.

She will see herself, obviously, as the first Latino on the court. And that, you know, you don't get out of your own skin. People are part and parcel of your background. Her New York background, her Bronx background -- all that will play roles in how she interprets the law on the bench. But that's true of every single judge on the bench.

Every single judge interprets ambiguities based on their own backgrounds and experiences. Some rebel against them like Justice Thomas. Some react according to their background like Justice Scalia. And we have to wait and see how Judge Sotomayor will respond to having been picked as the first Latino on the bench, but also, as a very distinguished judge.

She also joins a bench in which every single one of the judges have been a circuit court appellate judge. So, although President Obama said he wanted somebody with real-life experiences, he still went and picked somebody who was a circuit court judge, who joined eight other circuit court judges on the bench.

CHETRY: All right. That's interesting. As we noted before, there was some talk that perhaps President Obama would nominate someone who did not necessarily have judicial experience, somebody that was perhaps a politician, a governor of a state.

DERSHOWITZ: Right.

CHETRY: It appears that that was not the case. That was just speculation.

DERSHOWITZ: That was speculation. Of course, he expects to have at least two or three more vacancies. And there's no reason why there should only be two women on the bench. There's no reason there couldn't be four or five or six women.

As I said, there are six Catholics on the bench. Fifty years ago, people would be shocked at that. Nobody should be shocked, if in the end, there are six or seven women on the bench or people of different background. He'll have a number of appointments to make. And I suspect the next one will not be a sitting judge. But one doesn't know for sure.

Sitting judges are very safe appointments because they've already been confirmed once and they usually have a track record. And, often, they tailor their track record to make sure they're available for appointment to the Supreme Court.

CHETRY: Very interesting. Alan Dershowitz giving us a read this morning on this pick -- thanks so much.

DERSHOWITZ: My pleasure. Thank you.

HOLMES: All right. Again, our breaking news this morning, Sonia Sotomayor -- U.S. appellate court judge from the second district in New York -- is now the nominee, we understand. We have confirmed here at CNN she will be President Obama's pick to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court.

Let's bring in our big legal analyst here, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, any surprises here to you? It seems like she has been the front-runner since David Souter said he was going to step down.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): Well, if the president was going to pick a judge, it seems very likely that Sotomayor was going to be the one. She is a very eminent judge. She would be the first Hispanic judge. She brings a certain bipartisan aura because she was originally appointed to the federal district court by the first President Bush.

But President Obama has often spoke of the fact that he thinks people who are not judges should be appointed to the Supreme Court, people who are governors, who are politicians. And certainty, he gave that possibility serious consideration. But in the end, he decided to pick one more federal appeals court judge to complete the all nine lineup on the court of all appellate court judges.

As Alan Dershowitz was saying -- yes, it is possible he will have more appointments, but you never know. And he's had one so far. And this looks like a very solid pick, someone who will probably have very little trouble getting confirmed. And who will be a voice like David Souter for moderate liberalism.

HOLMES: And moderate liberalism. I was going to add, that's what Dershowitz just to us on the phone a moment ago. But he described her as moderate and to the left. Is that about right?

TOOBIN: I would say that's right. You never know for sure, because circuit court judges are bound by Supreme Court precedent. Supreme Court justices are less bound by Supreme Court precedent, so they have a little more running room. They get to expose their own inclinations to a greater degree than circuit court judges.

So, certainly she will be to the left on the court, with the three other liberals on the court -- John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We'll see how liberal she is. I don't think anyone can know for sure. She probably doesn't even know at this point.

HOLMES: And you don't perceive her to have any problem getting confirmed as you said here. So, this one could go fairly smoothly for the president. And she -- you don't perceive having any issues getting in place on the bench when their new season starts up in the fall?

TOOBIN: Certainly, based on what's known about Judge Sotomayor currently, I can't imagine any problems with confirmation. She has been a very distinguished judge for now pushing 20 years. Certainly, there may be decisions that people disagree with, but there have been no ethical controversies involving her, no scandals.

As John McCain liked to say, elections have consequences. And President Obama has picked someone who more or less reflects his own political views. He will likely have 60 votes in the Senate and the Democratic Party by summer. It just seems, based on what's known now, that this would be inconceivable as a defeated nomination. HOLMES: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, our legal analyst here. We appreciate you, Jeffrey, with your insights on what we are seeing this morning. The breaking story, it is going to be Sonia Sotomayor as the president's pick to replace retiring Justice Souter.

CHETRY: All right. So, with more on that and how the announcement will go down today, we join -- we are joined by Suzanne Malveaux. She's at the White House this morning for us.

So, Suzanne, in a little less than two hours now, we expect the president to formally make this announcement. Tell us a little bit more about the timing of what is soon to be his nominee for the Supreme Court.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Clearly, this is something that he wanted to get done before he goes overseas obviously next week, the end of this week. He's also going to be going out of town, heading for some Democratic fundraisers. The speculation -- and obviously, it's come to fruition that he would be making this announcement as early as today.

Obviously, a lot of things that they were looking at the candidates, the various candidates, the fact that he could make history by putting the first Hispanic on the court, but also her background here -- the fact she was nominated by former President George H.W. Bush, nominated, and then also by a Democrat, Bill Clinton -- that she has bipartisan appeal, that she has historic appeal.

She also has the kind of life story that you like to hear from this president unfold, talking about the fact that she grew up in a housing project, very humble beginnings, went on to Princeton University, Yale Law School.

This is something that they feel they have confidence that she will be able to get through this nomination process. There are already opposition groups, Kiran, as you know, that have been putting out papers against the various potential nominees -- some of them saying she's prickly with her colleagues.

White House officials, senior administration officials don't really think that is going to be very much of an issue. When you take a large look, a broad look at her portfolio -- the kinds of decisions that she's made and also the fact that she does have this kind of bipartisan appeal -- that this is kind of a no-brainer for them, as well as a twofer, the fact that she's a woman and Hispanic.

This is a president who wants to make his mark, who wants to make change and also is confident that he has a candidate here that has some real heft.

CHETRY: All right. Suzanne Malveaux for us this morning, with more on this pick, Sonia Sotomayor.

The announcement coming from the White House in just under two hours. And, of course, we'll follow it live here on CNN.

It's 45 minutes past the hour right now. We're going to take a quick break. AMERICAN MORNING will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Forty-nine minutes past the hour.

We're tracking breaking news out of Washington this morning -- CNN confirming President Obama will nominate federal appeals court judge, Sonia Sotomayor, as the next Supreme Court justice. If confirmed, she would be the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court.

AMERICAN MORNING's Jim Acosta just broke the news moments ago that President Obama will announce this pick 10:15 Eastern.

Let's bring in Jim Acosta, who was able to confirm this, as we said just moments ago for us.

Jim, tell us more about Sonia Sotomayor.

ACOSTA: Well, Kiran, even before President Obama made this selection, conservatives were gearing up for a fight.

Oh, I apologize there. I thought we were going to a piece. They were gearing up for a fight. There's a Web site that is up right now. You can see it online: ObamasFrontRunners.com. It was put up by a conservative group that would like to see a Supreme Court justice, they say, who is not a judicial activist. And Judge Sotomayor is listed as a judicial activist by this group.

And just a couple of quotes that are of interest that I think our viewers might want to know about, our CNN political staff has put together some quotes from Judge Sotomayor from her past. Back in 2005 at Duke University, she was speaking at a panel discussion there -- and she said that the appeals court is where policy is made. And she even said during that discussion, "I know, I know I'm on tape. I shouldn't have said that." But that is what she believes.

So, conservatives, when they hear that, they are going to take issue with that statement. They believe that policy is not made on the bench. Policy is made in the legislative branch of Congress, and that is it is up to judges to decide on the law, not interpret or make law -- not interpret but not to make law.

And so, Judge Sotomayor has made a couple of statements over the years that conservatives are going to have a lot of fun with. Earlier, before that 2005 panel discussion, she was at a different public setting in which she said that a judge's gender and ethnicity should be taken into consideration when ruling on cases. And so, conservatives are going to have some fun with that one as well.

Having said all of that, we should mention that as Jeffrey Toobin was saying earlier, this is -- this is somebody who is viewed by many people in legal circles as being moderate to liberal on the political spectrum. Nominated to the bench by George H.W. Bush but he did so at the behest of the former senator, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat from New York. So, there are a lot of tea leaves here, a lot of background information on Judge Sotomayor. She's not very well-known. A few personal profiles have been written about Judge Sotomayor over the years, one just recently in "The New York Daily News," a little interesting flavor about Judge Sotomayor. Apparently, she grew up reading Nancy Drew books according to my colleague, Michael Saul, over at "The New York Daily News" and was diagnosed with diabetes as a child.

So, it is interesting that she has had some difficulties throughout her life. She grew up in a housing project in the Bronx, was born to Puerto Rican parents. And one thing that we haven't brought up in all of this is that this appears to be a major play by President Obama for the Hispanic vote. President Bush -- President George W. Bush had a chance during his eight years in office to put a Hispanic on the bench. Hispanics were crucial to his election victory in 2000, his re-election victory in 2004.

President Obama did very well among Hispanics. A double-digit increase over what John Kerry had with that particular voting segment back in 2004. President Obama did very well among Hispanics. And a lot of Hispanics were saying, "President Obama, you owe us one. This is somebody we want on the bench." And a lot of Latino groups were pointing to Judge Sotomayor as somebody that they would like to see on the Supreme Court, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Jim Acosta for us with more color on exactly who this nominee will be. Thanks so much, Jim.

ACOSTA: You bet.

HOLMES: All right. Jim Acosta, we appreciate you.

Let's bring in Ed Rollins now, CNN political analyst.

And let's, Ed, pick up on that point there at the end that Jim was just making about Hispanics and how well the president did with them, among that group during the election. Did politics, does it play into a pick like this? Did the president essentially, do you think in some way -- hard to get in his head. I know you can't do that. But still, would you be surprised if something like that played into it?

ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): Well, I think -- you know, it's a historic choice, the first Hispanic, obviously, a Puerto Rican woman. She's got impeccable credentials from a legal perspective. Obviously, conservatives will not be happy. They won't be happy with any appointment that the president is going to make. But that's his prerogative to put Democrats on the court.

She'll be an activist judge, I think. But she's experienced. The fact that Daniel Patrick Moynihan recommended her to George Bush and she was sufficient to get that appointment tells you a lot about, you know, her credentials.

HOLMES: And, Ed, for a second there -- stop you there for a second because you said she's going to be an activist judge. No, what do you point to to say that she will be an activist judge?

ROLLINS: Well, I think -- I think, you know, her history. You know, I would -- you know, obviously, every president wants a judge to push their agenda, whether the agenda being to interpret the Constitution as President Reagan did and not legislate, or as many Democrats, when they've appointed people to the court, they want a court that basically, you know, is activist.

And I think, to a certain extent, you know, this president may have two or three appointments -- maybe one a year just by the age of the people who may be retiring. So I think this is the person who's sort of going to be his foundation, sort of the person that he is measured by. And I think, to a certain extent, he has to please every constituency in the Democratic Party by this choice.

HOLMES: And last thing here with you, if you can, Ed. You say conservatives, of course, many would assume, wouldn't be happy with any pick that he did make. But specifically, what do you think is going to be the one thing they harp on?

ROLLINS: Well, I think the comments that were out in the piece right before this, about some of the comments that she made about in the appeals court, this is where decisions are made. I mean, my sense is she's a great story. She's going to be very, very difficult to mount a real serious challenge against.

I've seen very little on her record. But, basically, it shows me that you can get any mileage out of attacking her -- you know, you're going to get some defection among some Republicans. And the conservatives, obviously, are going to make a real court battle. But she's going to be hard to beat.

HOLMES: All right. Ed Rollins, Republican strategist, CNN political analyst -- Ed, we appreciate you this morning.

ROLLINS: My pleasure. Thank you.

CHETRY: We also have with us on the phone, John King, host of "STATE OF THE UNION."

Hi, John. Thanks for being with us. I want to ask you about this as well. We heard from Jim Acosta's piece about some of the opposition groups putting out Web ads. But how much ability and will do the Republicans have to try to block this pick? JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, in terms of that keyword, Kiran, block this pick -- and good morning to you all -- they don't have a great deal of ability unless they come up with something we have not seen as yet in the public record or unless there's some dramatic turn during the confirmation hearings. And that's a simple question of math. The Democrats have the advantage.

But look at this in two different ways as we go forward. Number one, there will be some legitimate disagreements or questions or lines of attack and criticism about Judge Sotomayor's record, without a doubt. And conservatives already have been building their dossier, saying there are some affirmative action cases, there are other cases where they simply don't like where she ended up and they think -- to use the word Ed was just using in that discussion -- that she's an activist who tries to make law from the bench not interpret the Constitution from the bench, you will hear that.

But remember, number two, the political side of this. You have a demoralized Republican Party right now that has lost two elections in a row. The conservative base is looking for something to rally around. Some of that is to get energy and momentum. Some of that is to raise money. Some of that is to hold accountable their own in the Senate.

So, they will pressure senators to filibuster, to vote no, to take their time and slow-walk -- to use a Washington term -- the nomination process and push the hearings down into the fall and not in the summer, like the president would hope. So, when you see all this opposition, some of it will be legitimate substantive. Some will be a very carefully calculated political strategy.

CHETRY: All right. So, here are some other things as you talked about that they will be probably trying to use. As they debate this pick. You talked about some of the affirmative actions opinions.

She wrote the 2008 opinion supporting the city of New Haven's decision to throw out the results of a firefighter promotion exam on the basis that almost no minorities qualified for the promotions. It's interesting, though, because the Supreme Court heard this case last month, but they did not make a final opinion yet. That is still pending.

Is that something -- as you talk about -- some of those opinions that the Republicans will latch on to?

KING: You can bet. And, Kiran, as you are reading that, here's an e-mail I got from conservative activists. This is a quote from Wendy Long. She's a member of a group most Americans have not heard of but it's called the Judicial Confirmation Network. This is a coalition of conservative activist and you will hear this name over and over again in the next few weeks and months.

And Wendy Long says Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order, who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written. She thinks that judges should dictate policy and that one's sex, race and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench.

CHETRY: Yes.

KING: And she goes on in this statement to talk about this.

So, that is to the key point you were just making. This will be one of the lines of attack.

CHETRY: And it's interesting, though, because if they can get ahead of that, this is not necessarily something that the White House is saying is a bad thing. What I mean is, in terms of somebody who is governing from or, rather, ruling from their heart as some of the things they had talked about, she actually did not try to hide this either.

When she gave a speech in 2001 at UC-Berkeley, and she said that -- she questioned whether or not we do a disservice by ignoring our differences as men and women of color as put said it. She said gender and ethnicity of judges does and should affect their judicial decision-making. So, perhaps, she will make an impassioned argument for that in front of the Senate at those confirmation hearings that this is actually a good thing, not necessarily a bad thing.

KING: There's no doubt that this will be one of the sharpest and focused lines of questioning: her decisions on these issues, that speech you just mentioned on these issues. Although, if you go back through history -- and look there are a lot of judges, including conservative judges on the court, who have written or said quite provocative things.

But during the confirmation hearings, those tend to become more vanilla, if you will, Kiran, where the judges get very careful saying, "Anything I said in the past, you have in front of you, you know, Madam Senator or sir, and I said it. That is what I said. That is what I felt at the time, but now that I'm going to be on the court, I don't want to talk about these things. Now that I could be on the highest court dealing with cases about these things, I don't want to say anything more."

Confirmation hearings get very funny, if you will. And so, it will be interesting going forward.

One other quick point that I do want to make -- that some liberal groups who are involved in helping the White House early on in some -- I'll call them senior Democratic people outside of the White House. Some of them are voicing surprise at this because they view her as a highly competent and highly qualified judge, but they do not believe that she was the most -- shall we say -- of the intellectual firebrands that the president had on his list, those who could go up against a Scalia or an Alito on the court in the arguments.

And remember, this is the first pick by a Democrat in more than eight years after George W. Bush was president. I wouldn't say they're voicing disappointment but they're voicing surprise thinking that in their view, there were more better debaters and more intellectual choices available to the president.

They think this is a more safe, political pick that will have a better chance at confirmation and of course, as you all are discussing, there's been a lot of pressure on the president to name the first Latino Supreme Court justice.

All right. A lot of good insight this morning from John King, host of "STATE OF THE UNION." Thanks.

And we just want to remind our viewers. Just an hour and 15 minutes from now, the president will be making this announcement 10:15 Eastern Time. And you can see it live right here on CNN and CNN.com/live.

HOLMES: But thank you so much for joining us here on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see you back here tomorrow. Right now "CNN NEWSROOM" with Heidi Collins.

Home  |  World  |  U.S.  |  Politics  |  Crime  |  Entertainment  |  Health  |  Tech  |  Travel  |  Living  |  Money  |  Sports  |  Time.com
© 2014 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.