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At This Hour

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Challenging Roe v. Wade; CDC Considers Testing for All Travelers Entering U.S.; CDC To Provide Passenger Names on Flights from Southern Africa to Health Departments; U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken Says Putin Is Prepared to Invade Ukraine. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 01, 2021 - 11:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

We do begin with breaking news. A monumental moment at the Supreme Court right now. A woman's constitutional right to an abortion faces its biggest challenge in decades.

At this hour, at this moment, the high court is hearing oral arguments in a case with the potential to completely throw out this constitutionally protected right, first established by Roe versus Wade in 1973.

The court is considering a challenge to a Mississippi law, banning abortion 15 weeks after conception. The state is asking the court directly to overrule the 1973 precedent set by Roe.

Mississippi's law, which has been blocked by two federal courts before this, only allows the procedure after 15 weeks in the case of a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. It makes no exception for rape or incest.

The significance of this moment and this case before the justices cannot be overstated. Let's get to the court. CNN's Jessica Schneider is live outside.

Oral arguments still going on as we speak, Jessica, started about an hour ago.

What have you heard so far?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: These arguments have galvanized in particular the three liberal justices. We heard them dominate the questioning through the first 45 minutes of this case, speaking passionately about the stakes of this case.

In fact, it was Justice Sonia Sotomayor who spoke at length, talking about the fact that 15 justices have been circled through over the past 50 years, this entire time, reaffirming the constitutional right to get an abortion.

Justice Sotomayor also talked about the fact that there are other rights that the court has recognized that haven't been specifically mentioned in the Constitution itself, equating that with the fact that abortion rights have not also been mentioned in the Constitution.

But the solicitor general saying that's a reason that they shouldn't be recognized. So the liberal justices speaking at length. At the same time that conservatives here seem to be trying to grapple with the fact that, of course, Casey and Roe are precedent.

And should the Supreme Court be bound by that precedent?

What factors could weigh in?

How could the justices overrule that precedent?

In fact, Amy Coney Barrett talked about the fact -- she talked about precedent. She said, should public perception or should changing public views weigh into whether or not the court may overturn precedent.

So a lot of talk here. What was most poignant was Justice Stephen Breyer. He implored this court not to overturn precedent, saying that it could look purely political to the public. Here is what he said.


JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, U.S. SUPREME COURT: To overrule under fire, in the absence of the most compelling reason, to reexamine a watershed decision, would subvert the court's legitimacy beyond any serious question.


SCHNEIDER: So Justice Breyer, as he had in previous speeches, really warning that the court's legitimacy in the public view is at stake here.

Of course, the justices will have to consider this abortion ban essentially from Mississippi. It bans practically all abortions after 15 weeks. And the attorneys for the abortion clinic here say that is clearly in conflict with Supreme Court precedent Roe v. Wade.

These arguments are still going on. We're now hearing the conservative justices speak a lot more now that the lawyers for the abortion provider is speaking and making those arguments.

But big stakes here; hundreds of protesters outside the Supreme Court. A big decision that has really illuminated both sides of the political spectrum -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jessica, thank you so much for that.

Joining me right now for more is CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin. What do you make of what you've heard so far?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Let's just talk about the big picture first. You can make mistakes -- and I have made mistakes about reading too much into what justices say at oral argument.

But with that caveat, there certainly seemed to be at least five votes to uphold the Mississippi law. Now there do seem to be some differences among the conservative justices in terms of how far they want to go in overruling Roe v. Wade.


TOOBIN: I think the biggest news, the biggest surprise to me, is how much Amy Coney Barrett, who has not spoken on abortion yet, seems perfectly happy to overturn Roe v. Wade; in fact, enthusiastic about it.

Jessica quoted Stephen Breyer's argument, where he says we should be especially careful not to overturn watershed opinions.

Later in the argument, Amy Coney Barrett made the argument, watershed opinions, there's no such category. They should just be treated like any other kind of opinion and they can be overruled, too.

It should be stated that the liberal justices are fighting back, none harder than Sonia Sotomayor. She basically said, if this court overrules Roe and Casey simply because of a change in membership, there will be a stench, a stench on the court that will be very hard to get rid of. I think we have an excerpt from that.

BOLDUAN: Let's play that for everyone. Sonia Sotomayor really laid into the solicitor general of Mississippi with a lengthy line of questioning. Here is part of it. Let's play that.


JUSTICE SONYA SOTOMAYOR, U.S. SUPREME COURT: The right of a woman to choose, the right to control her own body, has been clearly set for -- since Casey and never challenged.

You want us to reject that line of viability and adopt something different; 15 justices over 50 years have -- or I should say 30 since Casey -- have reaffirmed that basic viability line. Four have said no, two of them members of this court.

But 15 justices have said yes, of varying political backgrounds.

Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception, that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?


BOLDUAN: What does this reveal?

Why is this a moment to highlight, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: Because the court prides itself, all of the justices like to say that we are not politicians, we are judges and we enforce the law, not because we're Democrats or Republicans but because we are making a good faith effort to interpret the Constitution in an apolitical way.

What Sotomayor was saying, what Breyer was saying, what Justice Kagan was saying at various times in this argument is, look, nothing has changed about abortion and the law, except that the composition of this court has changed because Donald Trump got to appoint three members and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was replaced by someone much more conservative.

If the only thing that matters is Republicans appointing justices to the Supreme Court, if that's what -- the only thing that changes what the Constitution means, then the Constitution is entirely a political document.

That's the argument that the liberals are making. It didn't seem to be making much headway with any of the six conservatives on the court but I think it certainly is an important subject for the public to consider. And that may be the audience that they're playing to.

BOLDUAN: But you're actually getting at something that I think a lot of people wonder when it comes to oral arguments before the court.

How much is any justice swayed by oral arguments versus all of the legal briefs filed and studied beforehand?

TOOBIN: Well, I've asked Supreme Court justices on that and they all say about the same thing, they say, well, about two a year. Two times a year their opinions are changed by oral argument.

But that I think understates the importance of oral argument for this reason, is that even though it doesn't change the outcome in terms of how the justices vote, it very well could have an impact -- and it could have an impact today on how the justices decide.

For example, today, Mississippi is asking the Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade altogether and say that states have free reign to regulate abortion at any point in pregnancy.

Chief Justice Roberts is -- does not seem interested in going that far. That byplay among the conservatives is very important and is something that is playing out in oral arguments.

So even though it doesn't affect the actual votes, how an opinion is written is very important. And that's being played out as we speak.


BOLDUAN: Absolutely. They're continuing oral arguments as we speak. Jeffrey is going to stick by and will bring you these moments. Thank you, Jeffrey. Really appreciate it.

We'll stay close to that and bring you this as the updates come from the Supreme Court, a huge day there.

Also still ahead for us, the CDC considering tougher testing requirements for people coming into the United States. The change would even affect vaccinated Americans. Details coming up in a live report.





BOLDUAN: Developing this morning, the CDC is now considering stricter coronavirus testing requirements for all travelers entering the U.S., including Americans returning home, despite their vaccination status, as concerns continue to grow over the Omicron variant.

CNN's Athena Jones is live at Newark International Airport.

What more are you learning about what the government is considering here?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. This is all about stepped-up surveillance for COVID-19 cases, particularly for people with the Omicron variant, travelers coming to the U.S. from abroad. It's something that CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky telegraphed when she spoke on Tuesday.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: CDC is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantine.


JONES: So a number of measures are under consideration right now, including requiring everyone who enters the U.S. to be tested one day before their flight. Currently, they have to be tested three days before their flight.

Another thing being considered is having all travelers, even U.S. citizens and permanent residents, get another test again when they get here to the U.S., regardless of their vaccination status. This is something that is still being considered.

It was being deliberated. No announcement has been made as of yet. This is a situation that's changing so much globally. So we could hear an announcement on this sort of thing very, very quickly.

We also know President Biden is set to outline steps his administration is going to take to keep fighting COVID over the coming months. It could end up being part of those recommendations or those new steps.

I should mention one thing that's happening here at Newark Airport and three other airports, three other major international airports, San Francisco, JFK and also Atlanta, you can see this table set up.

This is for international travelers coming in, who are offered a free COVID test. Now they don't get results immediately but they're offered a free test. They're also offered a take-home test so they can test themselves again in a few more days.

Of course, anyone who tests positive, that sample will be tested for Omicron. That's a big part of this stepped-up surveillance -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Athena, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama/Birmingham.

Just to restate, on testing, the government already requires travelers to test three days prior to departure for the United States. This would cut that down to one day. This is something the government is considering.

What are the considerations, though, that you think they could be debating here?

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA/BIRMINGHAM: Kate, it's a great question. We have been emphasizing since the beginning of all of this that more testing is better. More frequent testing gives you more assurance if you're negative and you can mingle with people.

If you're positive, you can intervene early to isolate yourself and maybe even get treatment if you need it. So I think the spirit and intention of the testing closer to your departure is a great idea. It would really make sure that you're clear to go on the plane.

The challenge is that you need to have these tests be accurate, they need to be available and they need to be affordable. And that is a very high barrier, to get organized 24 hours -- within 24 hours before your departure from another country.

I hope it happens. I think it would be incredible. But it's a very tall order to combine those three parameters in a test that will really help people feel safer getting onto the plane.

BOLDUAN: The struggle for more accurate and fast testing is just kind of confounding this far into this pandemic but continues to be not -- we're not talking about a third world country. We're talking about here in the United States, too, access to affordable, quick testing as well.

The CDC, also -- so they're considering this, Doctor. But the CDC is also already planning to provide names of passengers on flights from southern Africa to state and local health departments here in the United States.

This is something we're learning about this morning. This is all about contact tracing.

How will this help when it comes to stopping spread in the United States, this sharing of data like that?

MARRAZZO: Yes, contact tracing is fantastic when you have a reasonable chance of actually defining the networks of transmission, right?

So you may recall that, early in the pandemic, we were very aggressive about contact tracing. We tried really hard to notify family members, to notify co-workers. We actually shut down offices when they were in a situation with somebody infected.


MARRAZZO: That became increasingly futile when the infection became so common. Because once it gets out there, contact tracing is really not the way to go. You have got to isolate people and be able to create a bubble for it to work.

That's why we really switched to vaccination and larger measures like masking to kind of keep things going.

So then the question becomes, if Omicron remains relatively infrequent, can you go back to contact tracing and try to get a handle on this?

And I think that's a question we really don't have an answer to yet. So we'll have to see.

BOLDUAN: That's a good point. So there's also still a travel ban on foreign travelers from southern Africa, just put in place by the Biden administration. They've faced quite a bit of criticism about this. But I want to play for you how the surgeon general defended the response.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Travel restrictions, we know, will not permanently keep out a variant. These variants reach all parts of the world in due time. But it can buy us a little time to do the following:

Number one, vaccinate more people; number two, learn more about the variant; but number three, work on strengthening even further travel safety measures, including testing.

So the CDC is considering a number of measures. I do believe some of the measures it's considering will have a substantial impact on our ability to detect virus before it arrives here.


BOLDUAN: Talking about effective measures, how effective do you think the travel bans are at this point?

MARRAZZO: So nothing that the surgeon general said is wrong and I agree with all of it.

The question is, what are the consequences of buying this time for the countries you're targeting when we already know, number one, that Omicron has spread to numerous countries and numerous continents?

It's probably already in the United States. It's a matter of time before we find it.

Number two, when these countries, specifically South Africa, did the right thing by disclosing the detection of this variant and, number three, really rely heavily on economic stimuli afforded by travel, not just tourism but all kinds of work, so it seems still to me a little bit too broad and too discriminatory, frankly.

And I don't know that we're going to buy enough time to get the kinds of things he's talking about, like increasing vaccination, to really make an impact on the spread of Omicron.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Marrazzo, thank you so much.

MARRAZZO: My pleasure, thanks.

BOLDUAN: Join Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Anthony Fauci tonight. "Coronavirus Facts and Fears," tonight at 9:00 pm Eastern, only on CNN.

Secretary of state Tony Blinken using the strongest language yet on Russia's military moves. We have breaking details from Kiev next.





BOLDUAN: Breaking news: more than 10,000 Russian troops began winter military drills near the Ukrainian border today. And secretary of state Tony Blinken saying in no uncertain terms, Russian president Vladimir Putin is putting in place the capacity to invade Ukraine. CNN's Matthew Chance is live in Kiev with more on this.

This was pretty forceful language for the country's top diplomat, coming from the secretary of state, about Russia, Matthew.


To be honest, it's a lot of what we've heard already in terms of its substance, saying that basically the belief in the United States is that Russia has plans to conduct aggressive military actions against Ukraine, either in a large-scale fashion through conventional ways or, Secretary Blinken said, possibly through -- paraphrasing a little bit -- possibly through the use of internally causing disruption from within, inside Ukraine. So that tallies very much with what the Ukrainians themselves are

saying. Just last week, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said that his country had uncovered a coup plot orchestrated by Russians and Ukrainians working together to try to overthrow his government. That coup plot has not materialized, I have to say; no evidence for it has been made public.

Nevertheless, there is this growing sense of tension and concern about what Russia has planned for Ukraine. But Secretary Blinken making it quite clear there would be consequences if Russia were to act against its Ukrainian ally.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We've made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we've refrained from using in the past.

We are prepared to impose severe costs for further Russian aggression in Ukraine. NATO is prepared to reinforce its defenses on the eastern flank.


CHANCE: Russia has also said what it wants as well.