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The Situation Room

"Inspiring Woman" Picked for Court; David Axelrod Discusses Obama's Supreme Court Pick; Nevada Governor Gives President Cold Shoulder

Aired May 26, 2009 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: As concern mounts about what North Korea will do next, we'll get an exclusive look at life inside North Korea from defectors who risked everything to escape.

And President Obama heading to Las Vegas to raise money for Democrats. But he also raised tempers when he blasted banks for spending bailout money there.

Can he repair the damage?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


She rose from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench. And today, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is in line to become the first Hispanic justice of the highest court in the land. The president calls her an inspiring woman.

But will her record and attitudes inspire a fierce battle over her confirmation?

We asked our Brian Todd to take a closer look at this likely confirmation battle.

What are you finding out -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, analysts say that Sonia Sotomayor is more at the center left of the judicial spectrum than the far left. And they say that will help her at confirmation.

But some of her past remarks and rulings do expose her to conservative critics.


TODD (voice-over): Seventeen years as a federal trial and appeals court judge leaves plenty to pick apart in Sonia Sotomayor's legal file. But conservatives are also targeting her judicial philosophy.

WENDY LONG, JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION NETWORK: What we've seen since she's gotten on the bench is that she is very much a liberal judicial activist.

TODD: A reference to this remark at Duke University in 2005.


JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: The court of appeals is where policy is made. And I know -- and I know this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don't make law. I know.


TODD: Sotomayor clarified she thinks appeals courts are where are rulings carry broader ramifications for the law. On her own legal record, a controversial workplace discrimination case last year will almost certainly come up in confirmation.

PROF. ROBERT SCHAPIRO, EMORY UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: The case that most people are looking at is the New Haven firefighters case, where she joined the opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, saying that it was permissible for New Haven to throw out a firefighter's exam when there were only white firefighters who had passed the exam.

TODD: A ruling expected to be overturned by the current Supreme Court. Of Sotomayor's six other cases reviewed by the high court, four have been overturned. That's no surprise to one attorney, who has argued nearly two dozen cases before the Justices.

TOM GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT LEGAL ANALYST: Really, every judge is. The Supreme Court only gets involved in cases where it sees an issue. It reverses in 75 percent -- 80 percent of its cases.

TODD: But conservatives also make her personal style an issue. We asked a Bush administration attorney who's argued several cases before her about charges that Sotomayor is a bully behind the bench.

THOMAS DUPREE, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: She certainly was never abusive to me. Nor did I ever, for that matter, see her being abusive to anybody. She is a tough questioner. There's no getting around that. But I also found her questioning to be forceful, yet very fair.


TODD: Thomas Dupree says if you come into her court with a weakness in your case, Sotomayor will find it quickly and zero in on it. He says she's adept at throwing attorneys off their game plans, not to play psychological games, but to get to the right decision. And he says if he was advising any attorney going before her for the first time, he'd have only two words, Wolf -- be prepared.

She's tough, he say, but very fair.

BLITZER: Yes. You don't get to that level of the game...


BLITZER: ...without being tough. And hopefully she's very fair, as well.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: But usually there are cases -- sometimes obscure cases...

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: ...that speak volumes, potentially, about how someone nominated to the Supreme Court might eventually vote.

Have you had a chance to look and see if there are some cases like this?

TODD: We have. And the analyst we spoke with, Tom Goldstein, he points to one case before the Supreme Court right now that's pending. It's the case of a strip search of a middle school student -- a young girl that the school was looking for drugs.

The court is divided over whether the school had the right to go that far. Sotomayor has previously ruled against that practice. Goldstein says this is kind of an illustration of her experience as a woman behind the bench -- her outlook as a woman in the legal world. He says that could really come to bear in her decision making on the Supreme Court.

So look for cases like that. She's gone against the court in this particular one.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's continue our discussion of what's going on.

What was the thinking behind the president's pick?

What sort of battle may lie ahead?

Joining us now is the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.

David, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Was it critically important for the president that he select a woman -- and an Hispanic woman -- in the process?

AXELROD: Well, I think the first thing that was critically important is that he -- that he select somebody who reflected his basic principles about what he wanted in a Supreme Court justice. And she's satisfied those in -- in a spectacular way.

She has broad experience -- in fact, more experience on the federal bench than any appointee in the last hundred years. She's been a big city prosecutor, a corporate litigator and she's been a trial court judge. So this array of experiences, combined with her great life story -- amazing life story -- was very attractive to him. And, obviously, broadening the court, adding new voices to the court is a very, very important thing.

BLITZER: All the -- all the final four -- all the final four, we're told, were women, is that correct?


BLITZER: Because you wanted more than just one woman out of the nine?

AXELROD: I think...

BLITZER: You wanted at least two, right?

AXELROD: I think it's fair to say -- well, I'm not going to put a number on it. I think the president thinks that there ought to be more women on the court.

BLITZER: All right. That controversial clip of what she said back in 2005 at Duke University, let me play it again, because I know you discussed this with her. The Republicans -- conservatives are already saying she's "an activist judge." She doesn't want to simply interpret, she wants to make policy.

Listen to this.


JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: The court of appeals is where policy is made. And I know -- and I know this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don't make law. I know.


SOTOMAYOR: OK. I know. I know. I'm not -- I'm not promoting it and I'm not advocating it. I'm, you know...



BLITZER: All right. Go ahead and explain. I assume the president discussed this videotape with her.

AXELROD: Well, first of all, understand that that quote came in the context of a larger discourse in which she talked about judicial restraint and the need to be faithful to the law. She was talking to law clerks who were trying to decide between working in a district court setting or in a court of appeals setting. And what she was saying is that these complex Constitutional issues are the ones that come before the appeals court. And she was making the case for them that that would be a more interesting place for them to be.

But the bigger thing is if -- she's got a 17-year record. That record is very clear. She is someone who hasn't legislated from the bench. She's been very faithful to the law. And I think anybody who thinks that, on the basis of that 10 second clip of tape, they can make the case is going to find it very, very difficult when people get into the -- the details of her career.

BLITZER: And this other quote that "The New York Times" has, back in 2001, when she says this: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Now, you know that the Republicans are going to pounce on that, as well.

AXELROD: They may. But I think, as the president has made clear, you know, creden -- legal credentials are essential. Understanding that you have to be faithful to the law is essential. And, so, too, is the life experience that you bring to these decisions. And I think that's all -- all that she was saying.

She brings -- her story, as I said, is a magnificent one -- raised in the South Bronx. She worked her way up, graduated with high honors from Princeton, "Yale Law Journal." She's excelled everywhere she went. And she's one of these great American bootstrap stories. And I think that that perspective on the court is going to be very important and very valuable.

BLITZER: There was a tough article that Jeffrey Rosen, who's a law professor at George Washington University, wrote in "The New Republic" not that long ago. Among other things, he quoted people who worked with her on the courts as saying this: "They express questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship and, most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative."

I assume you read that article that Jeffrey Rosen wrote.

AXELROD: I saw -- I saw the article, yes. But I don't -- I think it flies in the face of -- of the evidence and the experience. In terms of her temperament, you just heard someone who has -- who practiced before her in your previous piece talking about her being -- being tough, but fair. And that's what she is.

She challenges lawyers who come in -- into her court to be prepared and make their case. And, of course, that is required on the United States Supreme Court.

Her colleagues talk about her intellectual rigor in arriving at these cases. And the president, who is, as you know, a Constitutional scholar in his own right, spent a great deal of time talking to her about case law and about legal theory and was -- was very, very impressed.

So, you know, I think that it is a shame that people would take someone with her history as -- of excelling at every level of the law and try and make that case. And I'm not going to ascribe motives to it, but I don't think it comports with the history of her life and her career.

BLITZER: When the president interviewed her -- and we're told he spent an hour with her -- did -- did he ask her where she stands on "Roe v. Wade," the Supreme Court decision authorizing abortion.

AXELROD: He didn't. I don't think he thought that was an appropriate question to ask. He didn't ask specifically about where she would rule on cases that might come before her. He talked more in terms of her philosophy of judging. They talked about -- about other matters, but not about that.

BLITZER: She's 54 years old. This sentence jumped out from "The New York Times" today. I'll read it to you and tell me if this was discusses with her: "Her diabetes, for which she takes insulin daily, has not proved to be a problem. But some have speculated as to whether her illness could or should be an issue in terms of her projected longevity on the court because of the potential for complications."

Was this a factor in the president's consideration?

AXELROD: Well, we -- we had communications with her doctor, who provided a letter analyzing her health situation. We talked to other doctors. We believe that she's going to -- her diabetes is well controlled. And we believe she's going to serve with distinction for many years to come.

BLITZER: Who helped the president make this decision?

Who -- in other words, who was in the room when he decided finally -- we're told last night that around 9:00 p.m. that she was -- she was the winner?

AXELROD: Well, it's been a rigorous process. The president and his -- his staff has provided reams of material that the president has read. He has consulted widely, including with every member of the Judiciary Committee.

But at the end of the day, the president made this judgment alone. He was in his study last night about 8:00. He made the final decision. He called up Judge Sotomayor and the other folks that he interviewed and let them know of his decision.

BLITZER: It's amazing it didn't leak out until this morning.

AXELROD: It was. Yes. This is an unusual Washington story, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very unusual.


BLITZER: All right. David Axelrod, thanks very much for coming in.

AXELROD: Good to be with you. BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is joining us right now with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: You know, I can't see the Republicans mounting much of a -- of an attack against this woman. I mean, she's going to be confirmed with nary a squeal from anyone, I think.

I mean, how are you going to attack her?

They can't. She's the first Hispanic to be nominated for the Supreme Court. Politically, they are in desperate need of Hispanic votes. You know, there's nothing in her record that would indicate there's going to be a problem.

However, I have something much more -- well, figure it out for yourself.

The headline reads: "Burping of the Lambs Blows Roast Off the Menu" in one of the...


BLITZER: I know...


BLITZER: I know where you're going.

CAFFERTY: You've got to have a little change of pace.


CAFFERTY: In one of the more bizarre articles on global warming -- "Burping of the Lambs Blows Roast Off the Menu" -- the "London Times" reports government officials are now urging people to give up lamb roasts and save the planet.

And it's not just lamb, either. Government advisers in the U.K. are taking steps to remove other so-called high carbon foods from menus, as well.

We're used to doctors telling us we need to change our lifestyle and diet to combat obesity or diabetes or heart disease. Well, now, the climate change experts are singing the same tune, saying a change in our diets is crucial to stopping or cutting back carbon emissions.

Lamb, alcohol and tomatoes are among the biggest carbon producing foods, while those that produce fewer carbon emissions include potatoes, seasonal vegetables, pork and chicken.

What are we really talking about here?

Well, I'm going to tell you.

According to a study on greenhouse gases that was sponsored by the British government, producing 2.2 pounds of lamb releases the equivalent of 37 pounds of carbon dioxide.

I don't know how that happens, they just say it does.

As the "Times" points out, sheep and cows burp a lot. And that produces a greenhouse gas called methane. And it should be noted that burping is not the only way to produce methane gas.

When it comes to tomatoes, 2.2 pounds generate 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. Compare that to just one pound of carbon dioxide -- are you still awake -- produced by 2.2 pounds of potatoes. Like I said, it's pretty bizarre.

Anyway, here's the question -- how much are you willing to change your diet in order to combat global warming?

Go to and knock yourself out -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Or something.

CAFFERTY: Or whatever.

BLITZER: An appropriate phrase.


BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much.

All right. She would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, so what does the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor mean to Latinos?

We're getting reaction.

Also, President Obama is heading to Nevada -- why some there, including the governor of that state, won't be offering such a warm welcome.

And the mother and son who fled his court-ordered chemotherapy are back before the judge this afternoon. We'll tell -- we'll take you there live to find out what happens next.


BLITZER: President Obama is heading to Las Vegas to raise money for Democrats. But he also raised some tempers there with some pointed words about bank junkets. Now, he may have to mend some fences.

Let's go to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

She's taking a closer look at this story.

What's going on -- Jessica? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, political leaders in Nevada are still upset about some comments the president made a few months ago that they say cost that state dearly.


YELLIN (voice-over): Thanks, but no thanks -- that was Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons' response to a White House invitation to greet President Obama when he lands in Las Vegas.


GOV. JIM GIBBONS (R), NEVADA: This was a phony setup by the administration to try to quell the anger that has come because this president spoke ill of Las Vegas.

YELLIN: It all goes back to these comments the president made in February admonishing suffering banks not to blow federal bailout money on junkets.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't get corporate jets. You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime.

YELLIN: The governor insists that comment drove businesses to cancel Vegas convention plans. In March, the month after the president's remarks, the city saw 18 percent fewer conventions and almost 12 percent fewer visitors than during the same time last year. Of course, the nation was also suffering a severe recession at that point and tourism fell nationwide.

Still, Gibbons wants the president to apologize and he asked for a sit-down meeting with him. Instead, he was invited to greet Mr. Obama at the airport. He said no.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would suggest that if the governor wants -- has a specific point that he'd like to make to the president of the United States, he's landing in a few hours in Las Vegas. And, apparently, he has been invited to make that case.

YELLIN: A spokesman for the Convention and Visitors Authority tells CNN the president's remarks, "didn't help," but said they were part of a "much bigger picture."


YELLIN: And while Gibbons is up for re-election next year, a number of polls show that a majority of Nevadans would not re-elect him. So he will be in a tough fight to keep his job -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jessica.

Thanks very much.

O.J. Simpson -- there are new developments in the case that sent him to the Nevada prison. We have details of a new move by his lawyers.

Also, do you recognize this home?

It's from a famous film and now the house is making news of its own.


BLITZER: Alina Cho is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Alina, what's going on?

CHO: Hey, there, Wolf.

In news around the world, new details are out about three Americans killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. They include a State Department official, a soldier and a civilian contractor. They were returning from an inspection of a wastewater treatment plant the U.S. government is building near Fallujah.

The Coast Guard is searching in the Gulf of Mexico for a teenager who went overboard from a cruise ship. It happened on Sunday night. Eighteen-year-old Bruce O'Krepki was celebrating his high school graduation. He was traveling with his parents and about 30 classmates. The ship was heading from New Orleans to Key West when O'Krepki disappeared about 150 miles southwest of Tampa.

O.J. Simpson is appealing his armed robbery and kidnapping conviction to the Nevada Supreme Court. The football star is serving a nine to 33 year sentence for an incident at a Las Vegas hotel involving sports memorabilia from his career. That appeal claims that his conviction was tainted by judicial misconduct and a lack of diversity on the jury.

And who can forget the scene from the 1986 classic movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," as Ferris' sidekick sends his father's Ferrari through a glass wall. Well, the house that's made famous by the film is up for sale. It's in Highland Park, Illinois. And for $2.3 million you get all 5,300 square feet. That includes the glass car pavilion used by the owners to house their classic auto collection. Or it will fit a lot of shoes.

That's all for now.

BLITZER: I love that movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day off."

CHO: Yes, it's a great movie.

BLITZER: I could see that movie multiple times.

CHO: That's good to know -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I love that.

Thanks very much.

CHO: You bet. BLITZER: A stunning turnaround in the case of a boy who fled with his mother to escape cancer treatments. We're going to tell you what a judge has just ruled.

Plus, extraordinary experiences and an extraordinary opportunity -- how a Latina from the South Bronx became the first Hispanic Supreme Court Hispanic nominee.

And a CNN exclusive -- as the world grows more nervous over North Korea's nukes, we'll get a look inside the reclusive regime from defectors who have risked everything, you know what I mean?.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, health concerns over President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court and the chronic condition that could shorten the lifespan of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

What role will it play in her confirmation process, if any?

Also, the U.S. warns North Korea actions must have consequences.

But what exactly will they be in the wake of the country's latest nuclear test?

We're tracking Washington's next move.

And California's Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8 -- the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage that passed just five months after the same Supreme Court legalized it. The ruling also says the marriages performed before the ban remain valid.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Same-sex marriage is likely to come up in the confirmation hearings for President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

He's watching the story for us.

What are some of the other hot button issues that are likely to come up during a lengthy confirmation process?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, certainly one that's been around for a while -- abortion. And one that's new.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Abortion is the traditional hot button issue at Supreme Court hearings. Two-thirds of Americans do not want the court's "Roe" decision, which gave Constitutional protection to abortion rights, overturned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I personally would not get into categorizing precedence as super precedence or super duper precedence or any sort of...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Did you say super duper?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Any sort of categorization like that.

SPECTER: Good. I like that.

SCHNEIDER: The newest hot button issue is same-sex marriage. Most Americans remain opposed to same-sex marriage, but support has been increasing. And it's likely to continue, because young Americans are strongly supportive.

But is it a right under the federal Constitution?

The federal courts have not ruled on that -- yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's an issue that may well coming up within the federal courts. It's almost certain to do so.

SCHNEIDER: In 2008, the California Supreme Court took an activist position on the issue, ruling that an individual's sexual orientation, like a person's race or gender, does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.

After California voters narrowly approved a measure banning same- sex marriage, the same court deferred to the voters, the same court deferred to the voters, ruling on Tuesday: "Our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values."

Will Judge Sotomayor set aside her own personal beliefs and values? Maybe.


JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, COURT OF APPEALS: Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know -- and I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don't make law. I know.

Ok. I know. I know. I'm not promoting any of that. I'm not advocating it.


SCHNEIDER: Many supporters of same-sex marriage want to avoid the battle over judicial activism by taking the issue directly to the people. But didn't the people of California say no? Well, they did. But with public opinion changing so rapidly on this issue, they are encouraged to try again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much. If Sotomayor is confirmed, here are some of the cases she'll rule on in the upcoming Supreme Court Term: Salazar v. Bono will decide whether individuals have legal standing to challenge religious displays on government property under the Constitution's establishment clause; the combined cases of Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida will determine whether juveniles that commit crimes short of murder can be sentenced to life in prison without parole; Beard v. Kindler will decide if the death penalty should be reinstated for a convicted murderer in Pennsylvania who twice escaped prison.

President Obama calls her an inspiring woman. Now his pick for the Supreme Court may have the chance to inspire countless others. Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She does have an amazing story, this woman.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: She really does. And that's the thing about this pick, Wolf. It's a long way from the housing projects of the South Bronx to the East Room of the White House. But for many in the Hispanic community, it is one of many roads that seem just a bit shorter today than yesterday.


CROWLEY (voice-over): She would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice tapped by the first African-American president. History picks history in the White House.

SOTOMAYOR: I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences. Today is one of those experiences.

CROWLEY: Sonia Sotomayor's extraordinary experience is being celebrated in much of the Hispanic community.

Taking calls all day at Viva 900 Radio in Maryland, Indira Terrazas says Sotomayor's life has huge resonance with her listeners.

INDIRA TERRAZAS, VIVA 900 RADIO: Right now it's a cultural flag. She knows the way Latino think, the way that if they want, they can get whatever they want. And she helped her way and worked hard. And now she can be the next judge of the Supreme Court.

CROWLEY: Born to a Puerto Rican family, Sotomayor went the hard way from public housing in the South Bronx to the Ivy Leagues, Princeton, Yale Law and then a career that spans time in the Manhattan DA's office to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Now, if confirmed, a seat on the highest court in the land. Her career is a dream of immigrants; her nomination, the dream of politicians.

Exit polls from the 2008 election show 67 percent of Latinos, the fastest growing demographic, voted for Barack Obama.

Veteran Democratic political operatives think that ties the hands of Republicans in the confirmation process.

MARIA CARDONAS, HISPANICS FOR A FAIR JUDICIARY: I believe that the Republicans are going to have to tread very, very carefully on this one. They have already alienated 70 percent of the Hispanic community in this country with the whole issue of immigration in 2006.

CROWLEY: In an interview with CNN Radio, the head of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, did not disagree.

MICHAEL STEEL, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN PARTY: Yes, you want to be careful. You don't want to be perceived as a bully in this situation.

CROWLEY: It is tricky for Republicans who need to win back Latino voters, shake the image as the "party of no" and hold their conservative base not happy with the nomination of someone they believe is an activist liberal judge.

Somewhere in between celebration and concern is Raquel Rodriguez, former general counsel to former Governor Jeb Bush, herself Hispanic.

RAQUEL RODRIGUEZ, MIAMI ATTORNEY: I think we've made great strides in celebrating the fact that we're diverse, but not using it either to hold people back or to push them forward. All else being equal, in my opinion, the judicial results ought to be the same regardless of what your background is.

Sotomayor is quoted as saying that her ethnicity and gender are factors in being on the bench. Expect to hear more about that in the weeks to come.


CROWLEY: The White House says the president picks Sotomayor for her intellect and personal touch, but he did think it would be a good idea, Wolf, to have a Hispanic American on the court.

BLITZER: I'm sure he did. Thanks very much.

David Axelrod thought it was a good idea, too, not surprising.

Candy, thank you.

Let's talk a little bit more about what's going on with our CNN political contributors: the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. Guys thanks very much.

Alex let me start with you and get you to react. How gingerly, how delicately do Republicans need to tread right now if they fear losing even more of the Latino vote?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Oh, I think, you know, Republicans have already done some damage to themselves with the way the immigration issue was handled. So it's going to be hard to burn down the same house twice.

I think this one, though, if the Republicans have an objection to this nomination it better be on legitimate legal grounds. And they do have a case to make there. A judge is a referee. A judge doesn't decide the outcome of the game. And this particular referee has said she's going to be a better referee because of her gender, because of her ethnicity.

If somebody said, "Hey, look, I'm going to be a better referee tonight at tonight's NBA play-off games because of my race, because I'm either black or white," you probably wouldn't hire them. So Republicans, I think, have to be very careful here to make their case on legal grounds and interpreting the law because it is a left of center pick at the moment from what we know. We should take a good look at it.

BLITZER: But doesn't everyone bring to the court, Paul, you know, the personal life history that they have, the experiences that they have?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. There was a nominee for the court many years ago, about 18 years ago, who was asked in his confirmation hearings. Why do you want to be on the court? One of the things he said was, I think I bring a different perspective, a different life experience. I've walked in the shoes of people who are affected by the court's opinions. And that was Clarence Thomas.

A compelling personal story, raised in grinding poverty in the rural south, went to Yale Law School and wound up on the Appeals Court. They have to be careful, the Republicans, because they have promoted others on the basis of these extraordinary life stories.

What's I think wonderful about this pick and brilliant about it is not only does she have the wonderful, personal story of a Clarence Thomas like that rising in the American dream. She also is supremely qualified. The top at Princeton, top at Yale Law School; one of the longer serving appellate court judges appointed by a Republican president originally, then promoted by a Democratic president; very, very hard to attack this choice.

BLITZER: Alex, as we take a look at the delicate nature of Republicans who are doing really relatively well and winning Hispanic support until this most recent election as you point out, immigration being a big issue. As they go forward right now, there's a lot of pride as you can imagine with Hispanic Americans, Latinos over the president's decision.

CASTELLANOS: There is. And Wolf, my name is Castellanos. I'm a sucker for a Hispanic success story. Someone who pulls themselves up by their boot straps. It's, I think, wonderful. It says something great about America to see someone reach the highest levels of whether government or business because of their own efforts to come from nowhere to somewhere.

But, you know, the guy who told us we were past identity politics in America was Barack Obama. He didn't play that card in the campaign. He fought against that. He said we're now at a new place. And now the question is, is he taking us back there? Identity politics, saying that someone is a better judge because of their race or their gender or their ethnicity?

That's kind of the old Democratic Party. And the old Democratic party that was -- people were scared. They spent frightening amounts of money and were fiscally irresponsible that practiced identity politics. That's the Democratic Party that lost a lot of elections for about 25 years.

BLIZER: Paul, given the fact there are 59 Democrats in the senate, there might be 60 if Al Franken wins in Minnesota. And already some Republicans like Olympia Snowe are saying relatively positive things about this nominee. Is it a slam dunk, barring something totally unexpected development that she will be confirmed?

BEGALA: I think it's extremely likely, Wolf. This is day one. I don't want to jump to conclusions. But I think Alex needs to be careful. Let me again point out Clarence Thomas played the race card, that's how he got confirmed, when Democrats -- and they went after him on, really, shocking allegations of sexual harassment; allegations of terribly unprofessional conduct.

He said it was a high-tech lynching of an uppity black man. That's playing the race card. That's identity politics I think at its worst. The beauty of his plan -- I say again is not only does she have the compelling personal story but she has the highest qualifications you can imagine. More experience on the federal bench than anybody who has been appointed to the Supreme Court in the last 100 years.

Plus, so she's got the qualifications of say, a Chief Justice Roberts but whose life story is about as interesting as a mayonnaise sandwich on white bread and she has this compelling personal story. I just don't see how --

BLITZER: He was born in Buffalo, New York, Paul -- Chief Justice Roberts. He does have a compelling story right there.

But let's talk a little bit about what we learned about this president of the United States today with this nomination.

Alex, first to you. What does this say about President Obama?

CASTELLANOS: That the non-ideological candidate, the candidate "no drama-Obama" who didn't want to frighten anyone before the election, he's long gone. And we now have a very bold president with an ideologically left of center agenda who sees that he has two years, that he's as popular as he's ever going to be these first two years to get that agenda through. And he's willing to take some risk to do it.

Now he has the personal popularity to make some of these left of center decisions on spending and on judges and get away with it. The problem is the Democratic Party doesn't. Bill Clinton took a lot of Democrats down. He survived. But he got a lot of Democrats lost senate races, house races, governors races because Clinton and Hillary-care and things like that moved the Democratic Party left.

BLITZER: Very quickly. What did you learn about President Obama today, Paul?

BEGALA: Excellence matters most. That he's a serious man doing a serious job. He picks this really impressive woman who is both supremely qualified and has lived a classic American dream as has Barack Obama. I think that's highly instructive.

And, you know, read Jeffrey Toobin's article about the chief justice who is a perfect expression of Bush Republicanism. The chief according to Toobin almost never rules against corporate power or government power. He was a slave to corporate power.

This judge will be very different, I hope, this justice will be a very different from the Roberts/Bush mode. That's what elections are about. As John McCain said today, elections have consequences. We want to turn away from this Bush slavish devotion to corporate power and to a more kind of classically American view of the little guy, in this case, little gal and have someone like that representing us on the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Paul Begala and Alex Castellanos; guys, thanks very much.

BEGALA: Thanks.

BLITZER: A dramatic new development in the case of the Minnesota teenager who fled rather than undergo chemotherapy. He's in court today and the judge has just issued a new ruling.

Also an exclusive interview with the North Korean defectors, shedding new light on one of the world's most secretive societies and its latest nuclear test.


BLITZER: There are new developments happening in the case of that teen who fled to avoid chemotherapy in Minnesota.

Let's go to CNN's Susan Roesgen; she's got the latest for us. What do we know, Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf in a court hearing just this afternoon we learned that the latest medical exam shows Daniel Hauser's cancer is even worse than it was when he was diagnosed. The tumor is much larger and the judge says he's got to have chemotherapy and this time he can't run away.


ROESGEN (voice-over): This is a big debate around a 13-year-old boy. Should Daniel Hauser be forced to have chemotherapy to treat his cancer? His mother says the first round left him in terrible pain and she fled with him to California saying if she hadn't taken him, he'd have gone on his own.

COLLEEN HAUSER, DANIEL'S MOTHER: Danny was going to run away. Then what do I have? I mean, he was going to run. That just broke my heart.

ROESGEN: This interview was done by an independent movie production company that also provided a private plane to bring Colleen and Daniel home. Turns out the two of them had intended to find an alternative to chemo in Mexico but never got that far.

DAN ZWAKMAN, HAUSER FAMILY SPOKESMAN: They got, I think, close to the border and then heard of reports they didn't like. Nobody has verified them to say whether it didn't or didn't happen. They understood at the time there was violence on the other side of the border so they thought for their own safety it was best not to go.

According to the judge in this case, Daniel Hauser and his parents now know that without chemotherapy, he will die. They say he will start the treatment again this week.


ROESGEN: And Wolf, no mother wants to see her son in pain, but as painful as Daniel Hauser says that first round of chemo was, he now says the tumor hurts him so much that on a scale of 1 to 10, his pain level is a 10.

And one more thing, Wolf, you saw him surround by reporters. He did not go into the courtroom after all. He might have been in the judges' chambers but apparently he was so spooked by all of the media attention here that he wasn't in the courtroom but his mother and father were -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Who has custody of Daniel now to make sure he gets those treatments?

ROESGEN: The judge took custody of him away from Brown County, away from the local authorities and gave the custody back to his parents after he got an assurance today in court that they won't run with him again; that they'll give them the chemotherapy.

BLITZER: Susie Roesgen in Minnesota for us. Thank you very much. We'll stay on top of this story.

A CNN exclusive: as the world grows more nervous over North Korea's nukes, defectors who risked their lives to escape give us a rare look inside that reclusive regime.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is -- how much are you willing to change your diet in order to combat global warming?

Billy writes from Las Vegas, Nevada: "It's too weird for me, Jack. Who on your staff comes up with these off the wall questions? Sorry, but I'm not giving up my tomato based foods like pizza and pasta sauce. In fact, I'd like to throw a tomato and some other produce at whoever produced this question." That would be me. Charlie in Belen, New Mexico: "Thank you Jack for the information. You've started my day with a smile. I knew changing my diet could affect my health but I never realized that so many supposedly intelligent people could spend so much time and resources researching cow burps."

Mark in New Jersey: "When I haven't seen a Hummer or any SUV, come to think of it, on the road for 2 months straight, then I'll consider it."

Alex in Connecticut: "Sounds like something from the New York Post, not the London Times. I shouldn't even have to say it, but anyway, please, it's just taking the whole thing way too far."

Ben writes: "I'm all for eating right but lambs, cows, tomatoes and potatoes were around for a long time before the industrial revolution and the planet was doing just fine. The burning of coal and oil is the problem, not my dinner plate.

Erin in California: "I don't have a problem giving up lamb or meat but shoot, we just planted 62 tomato plants in the vegetable garden. We thought we were doing a good thing.

Melissa in North Carolina: "Maybe we should talk about beer and refried beans while we're at it." Maybe not.

And Joe in St. Louis, Missouri: "The study could help me with an issue with my ill-mannered boss." Thank you very much for the information.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and avail yourself of a lot of really tasteless e-mails on a subject that we probably won't go near for a while again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One point we will, but not for a while.

CAFFERTY: Not for a while.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

Coming up, an exclusive look inside North Korea and the motive behind its latest nuclear test from defectors who fled one of the world's harshest regimes.


BLITZER: Now an exclusive look inside North Korea only days after a nuclear test. Let's go to CNN's Pauline Chiou. She's in Seoul, South Korea, with the latest.

You have a really amazing story, Pauline. Tell our viewers what's going on.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN INTERNATION: Wolf, it was really fascinating to talk to these people. We spoke with three different people who defected from North Korea within the past five years.

We wanted to get a sense of what the North Korean government might be telling the North Koreans about Monday's nuclear testing and whether or not the people are buying the propaganda.


CHIOU: She was once an entrenched member of the North Korean Workers Party but left everything last year, including her family, when she defected to China. Now living in Seoul, South Korea, Kim Hwa, who is using a pseudonym, said her former regime may be turning on the propaganda machine about Monday's nuclear test, but surprisingly, it may not be working as effectively as it did in the past.

KIM HWA, DEFECTOR FROM NORTH KOREA (through translator): Some people are saying that with the money the North used to develop weapons, the people would have been able to feed themselves.

CHIOU: Because China and North Korea are allies, Kim Hwa uses a Chinese middleman to get messages and money to her children and husband in Pyongyang. Communication between defectors and their relatives in North Korea has become easier, though, still dangerous in the isolated regime of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il.

A journalist for "Daily NK," a South Korea-based Web site on North Korean issues, says North Koreans along the border with china are able to get outside news using smuggled Chinese cell phones.

Moon Sung Wii (ph), a North Korean who defected four years ago, now writes for "Daily NK." He thinks the timing of the nuclear test is critical.

MOON SUNG WII, DEFECTOR FROM NORTH KOREA (through translator): North Korea is facing a lot of problems with pressure from the U.S. human rights issues and also food shortage. So, to solve these issues, it needs to create a breakthrough by showing people they're strong and that they can win against the U.S. In other words, by showing the rest of the world they're powerful, the North is trying to bring about internal unity.

CHIOU: Moon also believes Kim Jong-Il wants leverage with the international community and perhaps increased bargaining power with the U.S. before the upcoming trial of two American journalists arrested along the China/North Korea border in March.

We also spoke with another North Korean who defected with the help of a North Korean border guard. After witnessing so much death and the famine of the 1990s, gut instinct told her it was time to leave. Today, she still has hope for her homeland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I hope that people in North Korea can live their dreams like we do here, instead of struggling under a military dictatorship. I want everyone, not only us, but all of North Korea to be happy and see that happen very soon. CHIOU: But Kim Hwa knows change will be slow. She recently talked to her family in North Korea. They said things are even worse than a year ago.

KIM HWA (through translator): when kids go on outings, what they ask their mothers for is to pack them an egg in their lunch box, that's how tough things are at the moment.

CHIOU: And if current sanctions are tightened because of this week's nuclear test, life could get a whole lot tougher.


CHIOU: China and Russia are North Korea's closest allies and in the past they have rejected sanctions for North Korea. They are also part of the U.N. Security Council that's meeting today to discuss what to do about North Korea -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Pauline thanks very much. Pauline Chiou, reporting.

Happening now -- Republicans promise to give the president's first Supreme Court nominee a fair hearing. Can they afford to fight against an Hispanic woman poised to make high court history? The best political team on television investigates all the angles.

Plus, North Korea lashes out at the United States and reportedly tests more missiles. But the Obama administration response to the nuclear threat appears limited.