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Supreme Court's New Term Could See Landmark Rulings on Abortion, Guns; Democrats Try to Make Deal Between $1.5 Trillion and $3.5 Trillion for Social Programs; Blue Origin to Fly Star Trek's William Shatner to Space. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 04, 2021 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Well, this morning, the Supreme Court is back in its chamber for the first time in more than a year. Today, the 6-3 conservative court begins what could be the most consequential term in quite some time. All the justices are physically on the bench except for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He's tested positive for COVID so he has to dial in.

The court though is already at work. We learned moments ago it has rejected a bid from voters here in Washington, D.C., seeking the right to elect a representative to Congress.

Joining me to discuss this term, Slate Senior Editor Dahlia Lithwick, she's also lecturer at the University of Virginia Law School. Thanks so much, Dahlia, for joining this morning.

And I wonder given the host of issues that will come before the court this term, and I'm just going to list a couple of them, abortion, Roe v. Wade, gun rights, affirmative action, et cetera, is it an overstatement to say that the U.S. after this term will look quite different?

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SENIOR EDITOR, SLATE: I think that's right, Jim. I think that this feels like a big, big swing from a Supreme Court that's been trying to be careful about optics and all of a sudden this term, they're -- as you said, there's nothing that's not on the menu. And we've seen a very busy summer from a court that's usually quiet in the summer. It does feel like the court is kind of all-in, and we're going to see the landscape change in huge ways.


SCIUTTO: As we're speaking, these are pictures, live pictures from the Supreme Court, a sign of the attention to this session, protesters there, some of them now being arrested as they greet the start of the new session.

Okay, let's go through some of these issues. Roe v. Wade, as we currently know it and it's applied, will it survive this SCOTUS term? LITHWICK: Well, there's two things happening. One is that the court is going to hear in December the Dobbs case, that's the 15-week Mississippi ban. And we should be really clear that the state of Mississippi has all-out asked the court to overturn Roe, not just to preserve its narrow ban. So that's on the table. And just at the beginning of September, we saw the court refuse to enjoin that Texas SBA, that six-week ban, so already in Texas you can't get an abortion. Functionally Roe v. Wade has already overturned.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, that's the thing. We know that other states are already copying the language in that legislation. I mean, Texas, is the second most populous state in the union.

As a practical matter, are we heading towards a point where a number of states, women just don't have the right to choose in effect?

LITHWICK: Well, in some sense, that's already the case if you think about the number of states that only have one clinic. But I think you're quite right. And as a practical matter, whether the court formally overturns Roe or just continues to make it impossible in some states, we are looking at a very, very, very different world for abortion rights.

SCIUTTO: Okay, gun rights. This term the court will hear its first big gun case really in more than a decade. This relates to a New York law about what is required for gun owners to carry a weapon legally concealed outside of their home. Given the right turn of the court, and, by the way, on these issues, as you note, none of this is an accident. I mean, these nominees are litmus-tested on these issues when they're nominated. Do we expect this court to further expand the Second Amendment?

LITHWICK: On that I think there's no question, Jim. Otherwise, they would not have agreed to hear this case. And you're quite right, the court after 2008, when it said, at least theoretically, there's a Second Amendment individual right to own guns in the home to protect yourself, never put meat on the bones of exactly the contours of that right. I think this is where they put meat on the bones, and I think you're very right to say that the court looks as though now there are enough justices to vastly expand what the individual right to bear arms will mean.

SCIUTTO: Just quickly, we know that confidence in this court has declined, public approval. We've seen some justices very publicly push back against that and blame everyone, including the media for it. But the fact is, listen, just look at how the justices were chosen in the most recent years. Does it matter, right? Does it matter to have the court viewed as a partisan apparatus in effect as opposed to sort of a grand adjudicator of these big issues?

LITHWICK: Frankly, I can't imagine that anything could matter more. The court is ultimately the arbiter of what the rule of law is. And when public approval is at 37 percent, record lows in polling, it means that whatever the court does, the public may not sign off, and that's terrifying.

SCIUTTO: Dahlia Lithwick, thanks so much for breaking it down for us.

LITHWICK: A pleasure to be here. Thank you.

ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM: Still ahead, Democrats struggling to negotiate the details and the final cost of the president's historic build back better bill. This as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to his colleagues. What did he have to say? We're live on Capitol Hill, next.



HILL: Minutes from now, the president is set to speak from the White House. He is making his way back. He's expected, of course, to push Congress to raise the debt ceiling to prevent the U.S. from doubting on its debt for the first time ever.

SCIUTTO: It comes as moderate Democrats, progressives continue to negotiate the size and scope of the president's sweeping spending package after launching a lot of bombs at each other in those final days in negotiations.

CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill, has been following this from the beginning.

Manu, I spoke with Debbie Dingell last hour. She said, as a lot of Democrats have said, failure is not an option. Basically, we're going to find a way to get to a deal. Okay, not an option politically, but still a possibility? I mean, as you talk to members, do they have a path forward?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at the moment. The negotiations need to continue. The Democratic leadership has set a new deadline, that being October 31st, the end of the month after they were not able to get a deal on Friday, to move that infrastructure package. Remember, there are two separate paths, $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, and that larger expansion of the social safety net.

Now, that larger expansion, there are still significant disagreements between progressives and moderates about the size and the scope. Joe Manchin, on the moderate side, wants about $1.5 trillion, and the progressive side, they are still pushing for somewhere close to $3 trillion. And then never mind the decisions over these policies within that.

But, nevertheless, Democratic leaders are pushing to get a deal between those factions within their -- in their caucus in the House and Senate. Chuck schumer, the Senate majority leader, sending out a letter today saying he wants a deal to be struck on this issue in a, quote, matter of days.


He goes on to tell his colleagues that, from the very beginning, we knew the execution of the two-track legislative strategy for the bill -- for the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the build back better act would be difficult and at times messy. We can get this done together if we put aside our differences and find the common ground within our party.

So, he is trying to impress upon his members they need to come together. So, expect all this to happen behind closed doors. But as we know, the way Congress operates, they don't operate until they get very close to an agreement. So, potentially, this could drag on for the course of this month but it will take time to go through the legislative process, which is why that pressure is going to intensify behind closed doors. Can they get an agreement? Still uncertain at this point, guys?

HILL: Here we are. I feel like we say this every day, but buckle up, it's going to be a long ride. Manu Raju, I appreciate it, as always.

SCIUTTO: Well, Democrats' hopes for passing President Biden's sweeping spending bill, legislative agenda, along with other key agenda priorities beyond the wrangling in the House, relies heavily on two moderate Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

HILL: And while Democrats may be fortunate to have a member of their party representing West Virginia, let's be honest, we know they're not getting everything they hoped for from Senator Sinema.

CNN Senior Data Reporter joining us now for a closer look. So much focus especially, I would say, in the last few days on senator Sinema.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes, there's been a lot of focus. And you got it exactly right. The electoral backgrounds that these senators face are completely, completely different. You just have to look at the 2020 presidential election. What we saw in the state of West Virginia was that Joe Biden lost that state by nearly 40 points. In Arizona, Joe Biden actually won it.

And this is an indication of what we've generally seen at large. You know, Kyrsten Sinema is not the only Democrat who can win in the state of Arizona versus Joe Manchin being really the only Democrat so far who has won in West Virginia the last few years. If we look at the offices that Democrats have won in West Virginia, look at this, the other U.S. Senate seat, five of the nine U.S. House seats, the secretary state, superintendent of public instruction. Again, that's just so much different from West Virginia where Joe Manchin is the only Democrat who represents that state statewide.

And, you know, I think this may in fact put Kyrsten Sinema perhaps in danger of a primary challenge, and here's the reason why. If you look at the ideology of registered Democrats in the state of West Virginia versus Arizona versus nationwide, look at that, Arizona, the registered Democrats are actually slightly more liberal than they are in the U.S. versus in West Virginia, they're considerably more moderate and conservative.

And the one other thing I'll note is Kyrsten Sinema likes to hold herself up as the new John McCain. You know, John McCain was this maverick. But here's the thing to keep in mind, yes, John McCain didn't always vote with his party, but if we flip more to this last slide, what do you see? He voted with 85 percent of the time. Kyrsten Sinema votes with it just 69 percent of the time. She's completely different than John McCain when it comes to voting with her party.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we'll see who's reading state correctly, her or the others. Harry Enten, thanks very much.

ENTEN: We'll see. See you.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, Captain Kirk is about to get beamed up into space or back into space, depending on what you believe. How Blue Origin is lifting off with 90-year-old actor William Shatner, next.



SCIUTTO: Star Trek's Captain Kirk will soon go to space for real if you doubt that the Star Trek series did not present a factual view of reality. Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin has just announced that William Shatner will fly on board its crude rocket on October 12th.

HILL: At 90 years old, Shatner will be the oldest person to ever go into space.

CNN's Kristin Fisher joining us now with the details. About a 15- minute flight, as I understand it, it still counts though, Kristin?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: It still counts. They're going to be going above the Karman Line, the international recognized boundary of space. So they'll get about 11 minutes from launch to landing, only about three or four minutes of weightlessness. And this is going to be very similar to what Founder Jeff Bezos experienced on his flight back in July.

But remember, I mean, Shatner is the guy who famously said, beam me up, Scotty, now, instead of Scotty beaming him up to space, it's going to be the team at Blue Origin. And so also on board this flight. And it's going to be lifting off in almost a week. October 12th is the target date.

Also on board is an employee for Blue Origin, a former NASA engineer and co-founder of Planet Labs, and the co-founder of a life sciences company, so, four people on board this flight. And this is really an exciting time for Blue Origin after nearly 20 years of existence. They're now on the cusp of their second crude flight.

But it's also a time of renewed scrutiny on the company because just last week, a group of 21 current and former employees co-signed an essay detailing what they described as a toxic workplace environment. They say it's a place where professional dissent is actively stifled. They also talked about certain male leaders routinely engaging in sexist behavior. These are all claims that blue origin adamantly denies. They say that they have no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind, but they also say that they are investigating any new claims of misconduct.


You also have the FAA reviewing these allegations. Not an investigation, just a review. But, Jim and Erica, 17 successful consecutive test flights for this New Shepherd spacecraft, so, William Shatner, odds are good for him.

HILL: All right, and coming up quick, October 12th. Kristin Fisher, I appreciate it. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Thanks so much to all of you for joining us today. I'm still raising my hand for the next flight. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HILL: Hopefully, Kristin can get that message to them for you. I'm Erica hill. Thanks for joining us this hour.

At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts after a quick break.