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Supreme Court Rules Maine Cannot Exclude Religious Schools From Voucher Programs; Texas State Senators Hold Hearing on Uvalde Shooting. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 21, 2022 - 10:30   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much.


And I'll be calling the doctor's office again today right after the show to see if they have the doses in yet for my son. Thanks again.

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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Can the U.S. work out a deal with Iran before President Biden heads to the Middle East next month? We have got new reporting saying that is what U.S. allies at least want him to do. That's coming up.



HARLOW: This just in to CNN, the Supreme Court has just issued an opinion in a case called Carson versus Makin. It is a challenge to a program in Maine that pays for some students to attend private schools.

SCIUTTO: That's right. The Supreme Court saying Tuesday Maine cannot exclude religious schools from a tuition assistance program that allows parents to use those vouchers to send them to public or private schools.

Jessica schneider, you've been following this case closely. Tell us what it means.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a case that came up because about half of Maine's school districts are actually too small to sustain a public high school. So, what the state of Maine does is it provides tuition assistance in the form of vouchers for students in those districts to attend other private schools.

And the question was, could Maine exclude certain religious schools, and the court here saying in a 6-3 written by the chief justice, John Roberts, that Maine cannot exclude religious schools from that tuition reimbursement program, saying that it violates the free exercise clause. That clause, of course, restricts the state from discriminating on the basis of religion.

There were several parents in Maine who brought this challenge, saying that they wanted to send their student to a religious school but that this tuition assistance program wasn't available to them. They argued that it violated the Constitution, and today, a 6-3 conservative majority agreeing with those parents. So, now, Maine will have to restructure its program to provide this tuition assistance for all students in the state of Maine.

There are several other states in the country that have a similar program. So, arguably, they'll also be affected by this Supreme Court ruling.

But, Jim and Poppy, this goes along the trend of what we've been seeing from this conservative majority to bolster religious rights and decide cases where they ruled on the side of a Catholic foster agency that refuse to work with same-sex parents. We saw it back in 2017 when the court there said that states could not exclude church playgrounds from any state funding that they gave to resurface all playgrounds.

So, this is just the latest trend, and this is a big win for the parents in Maine who said that their students -- their children should also be receiving this tuition reimbursement that went to students at all schools. They said it should go to students as well at religious schools.

This was something that we saw at oral arguments. The conservative justice, Brett Kavanaugh said, basically, all they want is equal treatment to attend the same schools that other students do. So, this case now decided in favor of those parents who argued that their students should be entitled to this tuition reimbursement as well, guys.

HARLOW: Let's bring in CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin and former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers.

So, Jessica laid that out so well, Jeffrey. This has been coming. This has been building. It was the chief justice, Roberts, who, in 2017, wrote that opinion in Trinity Lutheran and said, now, you can't exclude religious schools from a grant to resurface playgrounds but he left for another day and I guess that day is today this bigger decision. What does it mean for the country?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, again, this is part of a major trend and the larger subject is can the government fund religious schools? Can taxpayer dollars go to schools that are openly religious?

Now, under the free exercise clause, we have parochial schools in this country and we have children -- parents can educate their children with -- under any sort of religious -- any religion they like. However, there is also the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which said the Congress cannot establish a religion. And, historically, the court has said if there is government money going to religious institutions, including schools, that is a violation of the establishment clause.

That idea is breaking down under the conservative majority. There are more and more opportunities, whether it is funding textbooks, whether it is funding playgrounds, now scholarships, where it is permissible for the government to give money to religious institutions. It is a conflict between the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. And under this conservative majority, the free exercise clause is winning case after case.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer Rodgers, this has, obviously, legal constitutional implications here under this umbrella of religious freedom. And this court -- there are a lot of cases come its way under that umbrella, also has practical implications because it gets to funding of public schools, right? There's a finite amount of money if something is going to religious schools, what does that mean for public schools?


But on the broader issue, for layman at home, who say, wait, I thought there was a separation between church and state here, in the most -- I know that's a simplification, but in the most general terms, what does this mean about how this court sees that division?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jeffrey is exactly right. I mean, the old saw of a separation between church and state, which is based on the establishment clause, is breaking down. We're really seeing that it is not going to be there more and more this court erodes the establishment clause by elevating freedom of religious expression, the free exercise clause, above the notion of the establishment clause. So, we have that here.

The other thing that is interesting in this case, as in so many cases before the court these days, is the clash between free speech, free religion, free exercise of religion, and these other First Amendment rights. And, again, this court is elevating the religious aspects of the First Amendment above others, like plain old free speech.

So, it is all breaking down. I mean, we see where they're going. This is not a surprise. This result was not a surprise. The split was not a surprise. And we'll just have to see how much more eroded it gets in the years to come.

TOOBIN: Can I just to talk a little bit about where this is heading, because, again, this is no secret. It is basically the conservative movement in this country is moving towards -- or is advocating a complete voucher system for public education in this country, which is every student in America would get a certain amount of money. And you could use that money to go to a public school or you could use that money to go to a parochial school. And there would be essentially 100 percent funding of parochial schools.

That would be many public school advocates say a death sentence to public schools in this country because they would lose a lot of the financial support they have now. But that's the bigger issue on the horizon, and that's closer as a result of the decision today.

SCIUTTO: It's a big point, a major -- potential major policy change there. Yes.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Despite who these schools, as Elena Kagan brought up in oral argument, do not admit, right, Jeffrey, I mean, to your point, that they would be funding schools like these that admit they do not admit homosexual people, transgender people or non-Christians.

Thank you both for your analysis very much, Jessica Schneider outside the court, great, as always, Jeffrey, Toobin, Jennifer Rodgers.

We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: Right now, the Texas State Senate is listening to testimony from the Uvalde school shooting. Moments ago, Colonel Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, gave a compelling statement. Listen to what he had to say.


COLONEL STEVE MCCRAW, DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: Senators, Steve McCraw, Director of Texas Department of Public Safety. As Senator Gutierrez noted, it has been 28 days since the senseless massacre of 19 innocent children and their two teachers at Robb Elementary School. Much has been done but much more needs to be done before this investigation is completed and presented to the district attorney, Christina Mitchell, for her review.

We do know this, there is compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we have learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.

Three minutes after the subject entered the west building, there was sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject. The only thing stopping the hallway of dedicated officers from entering room 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.

The officers had weapons, the children had none. The officers had body armor, the children had none. The officers had training, the subject had none.

1 hour, 14 minutes and 8 seconds, that's how long the children waited and the teachers waited in rooms 111 to be rescued. And while they waited, the on-scene commander waited for a radio and rifles, and he waited for shields. And he waited for SWAT. Lastly, he waited for a key that was never needed.

The post-Columbine doctrine is clear and compelling, and unambiguous, stop the killing, stop the dying. You can't do the former unless you do -- you can't do the latter unless you do the former.

Certainly, some things were done well and even very well. The teachers quickly implemented active shooter protocols prior to the subject gaining entry. In fact, one teacher was able to call 911 and report that before the subject entered the campus.

Law enforcement officers were able to evacuate hundreds of children in a safe and orderly manner. The district attorney, Christina Mitchell, and her staff, led tireless efforts to take care of the victims and their families in the aftermath.


And Senator Gutierrez talked a little about victim identification and victim notification. That is always a priority after such a tragedy, very difficult to do, and she did an outstanding job in trying to handle that situation, deploying all the different resources from local, state and federal agencies at the time.

Importantly, I would like you to know that at the time of this death, or first of all, I'll go -- before I go to the timeline, I just want to cover one more thing, if you don't mind, is that with your permission, to quickly review some of the pre-attack events is what I would like to do.

I think it is important to note, plus, this is not just a DPS investigation and Texas Ranger investigation, we worked closely from the beginning with all federal agencies and all agencies on the scene in particular in the investigative side, the FBI has provided tremendous resources, hundreds of agents to cover leads throughout the country, throughout the world and also enhance the videos with technology capabilities that they have back in Quantico, very important to do to get to the facts, to see exactly what happened. Because one thing is witness statements, another thing is video and audio recordings. We're grateful for them.

We're also grateful for ATF in terms of the initial phases as it relates to the firearms and weapons that were involved and ammunition and their efforts continue. In fact, we'll continue to use the FBI in its regard. There're more interviews, we have interviews to do. So, again, we're not done at this point in time and we won't be done until the district attorney is satisfied that the investigation is completed, and more satisfied that what we have is correct.

I can tell you just a quick overview of the subject, at the time of his death, he was 18 years old, lived with his grandparents on Diaz Street, which is 0.29 miles from Robb Elementary --


SCIUTTO: You were listening there to testimony just moments ago by the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Colonel Steve McCraw. And I think you can describe it as disgust, right? You can hear it in his voice. In his words, he said the on-scene commander chose to put the lives of officers before the lives of children. HARLOW: Yes. Yes, you could hear, Jim, when he said 1 hour, 14 minutes, 8 seconds, those children in the room 111, he essentially said, had nothing.

And then as we bring our Rosa Flores in here, who has been digging and digging for weeks for answers, Rosa, the fact that he said they waited for a key that was never needed, that door wasn't locked, they're saying.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Poppy, there are so many things that stand out about what Colonel McCraw is saying here to start off, he calls all of this an abject failure, based on all of the training and learnings since Columbine. And, of course, we all have learned this because we have been covering these stories, and that is when there is an active shooter, law enforcement go and stop the threat, period.

And that is exactly what didn't happen here in Uvalde. That's why the anger, the heart break is palpable in this community because they have been getting drips and drabs of information. The story has changed multiple times and now this is the latest episode in this story, with Colonel McCraw delivering this latest timeline before the Texas Senate.

But we have been covering a Texas House committee that has been behind closed doors, and now we're learning more details. According to Colonel McCraw, what he said is that in the first three minutes, there were 11, at least 11 officers, and we learned this from sources, 11 officers that entered that school, at least two of them had long guns.

Now, when there is discussion about the weapons that the officers had to stop the threat in comparison with the weapon that the gunman had, that is why he's making that statement, to make it clear that these officers, at least two of them had long guns. There were 11 officers that entered into the school.

And, Jim and Poppy, we're learning much, much more, one of the important details that stands out to me from just looking at the timeline that he's about to go over, is that it was 24 seconds, 24 seconds, the time that it took the shooter to enter the school and start shooting. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Lord, just alarming. He said sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize, that means kill, the subject, remarkable.


HARLOW: Rosa Flores, thank you for staying there on the ground and for trying to get all these answers. I'm glad the public can now see some of this in public testimony.

Thanks to all of you for joining us today. It has been a busy morning. We'll see you back here tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: Goodness, indeed lots of news. I'm Jim Sciutto. Our colleague, Erica Hill, she is going to start right after a quick break.