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The Situation Room

President Obama Announces Supreme Court Pick; California Same- Sex Marriage Ban Upheld

Aired May 26, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, North Korea lashes out at the United States and reportedly tests more missiles. But the Obama administration's response to the nuclear threat appears limited.

And new anguish within the gay community -- a same-sex marriage ban remains the law in California -- this hour, the ruling, and what happens next.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

She's the most talked-about and scrutinized judge in America right now. Sonia Sotomayor is President Obama's choice to sit on the United States Supreme Court and become the first Hispanic justice. Forces for and against her confirmation are marshaling their resources right now.

And CNN is digging into her life and her 17-year record on the federal bench.

Standing by, our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, CNN's Deborah Feyerick, but first let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

Dan, this was a historic day at the White House.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was really a historic day here, Wolf. She had been widely speculated as a top choice, but the White House and the president were able to keep this decision very private, in part because the president did not make up his mind until the very last minute.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): The final decision came after what President Obama called a rigorous and comprehensive process, nominating the first Hispanic-American, Sonia Sotomayor, to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences. Today is one of those experiences.

LOTHIAN: The president praised her intellect and her common touch. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Walking in the door, she would bring more experience on the bench and more varied experience on the bench than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed.

LOTHIAN: Her journey to the Supreme Court nomination began last Thursday, when Sotomayor visited the White House for six hours and met with the president for one. Aides say that visit was critical but that no one thing she said or did during the meeting pushed her over the top.

At the time, she was part of the final four, all women, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Senior administration officials say Mr. Obama was least familiar with Sotomayor but had been "interested from the start," driven by her background and his instinct. The president pressed his aides to offer pros and cons, and officials say they did not uncover any deal-breakers.

Over the weekend at Camp David, the president was leaning in one direction, but was still undecided. On Memorial Day, aides say he made up his mind, then placed a call to Sotomayor around 9: 00 p. m. , just hours before the highly anticipated announcement, a decision that's still sinking in.

SOTOMAYOR: I was just counseled not to be nervous.


SOTOMAYOR: That's almost impossible.


LOTHIAN: White House aides say that she was not picked because she's an Hispanic, but they point out that the president believes that having an Hispanic-American on the Supreme Court is -- quote -- "a healthy thing" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thank you.

President Obama says Sonia Sotomayor's life story is inspiring. She's certainly overcome some very humble beginnings, a family loss and a longstanding health condition.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is covering the personal side of Judge Sotomayor for us -- Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is where Sonia Sotomayor went to high school, armed with her mother's faith in education and a strong desire to learn and at first was more comfortable with the screech of the New York City subways than she was with the sounds of the crickets at her Ivy League university.


FEYERICK (voice-over): Born in the South Bronx, it's not crime or violence or poverty Sonia Sotomayor talks about. What influenced her more is her mom.

SOTOMAYOR: I am all I am because of her, and I am only half the woman she is.

FEYERICK: Originally from Puerto Rico, her parents moved into a public housing project near Yankee Stadium when Sotomayor was 3. Her dad worked in a factory and spoke no English. Her mother, a nurse, often worked two jobs to support Sonia and her brother.

OBAMA: Sonia's mom bought the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood, sent her children to a Catholic School called Cardinal Spellman out of a belief that with a good education here, in America, all things are possible.

FEYERICK: At age 8, Sotomayor was diagnosed with diabetes. A year later, her dad died. Both tough, says a colleague.

JUDGE KIMBA WOOD, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Overcoming those two difficulties in her life may be just as important as overcoming any prejudice against Hispanics.

FEYERICK: In her biography for the law school admissions council, Sotomayor says:

SOTOMAYOR: I didn't think of myself as a minority in the environment I was in. The community I grew up in, Hispanics predominated.

FEYERICK: Sotomayor attended Princeton on scholarship, graduating with highest honors. After Yale Law School, where she was editor of the law journal, she chose to work as a prosecutor in Manhattan before taking the bench, where she worked on new sentencing rules with Chief Justice Kimba Wood.

WOOD: She really understood the people in her neighborhood, and what laws might help rehabilitate them and what laws would have a bad effect.

FEYERICK: Friends and colleagues describe her as smart, determined and modest.

JUDGE BARRINGTON DANIELS PARKER JR., U.S. COURT OF APPEALS, 2ND COURT: If your on the opposite side of an issue with Sonia, you better be sure you have done your homework.

FEYERICK: At her local Manhattan bakery, where she's seen as a regular gal, she often comes in for sturgeon toast, bread sticks and a cup of decaf coffee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My dad is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. And it's just so amazing to have a Latino person on the Supreme Court.


FEYERICK: Now, colleagues describe her work as sound and pragmatic, and say Sotomayor often talks with wonder about all she's achieved, given where she began -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A truly amazing story she has.

All right, thanks very much, Deb Feyerick.

Let's talk a little bit about this nomination with our resident expert on the United States Supreme Court, our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, the author of the bestseller on the Supreme Court "The Nine."

Jeff, talk a little bit about the chemistry, assuming she is going to be confirmed. What will it be like? What will she add to this court, for example, that David Souter didn't necessarily have?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, the thing that is so different about Sonia Sotomayor is that she has a lot of street-level experience with the criminal justice system. She was a prosecutor in New York City. She was a trial judge, a federal trial judge, in New York City.

That's something that none of the justices in the Supreme Court have -- have done, is had the experience with juries, with defendants, handling the traffic in a courtroom. But the thing that makes her such a formidable choice is that she also has the intellectual achievements and -- that -- that people expect in a Supreme Court justice, the distinguished academic career and a decade on the federal court of appeals in New York, where she has a record that is pretty much unassailable.

BLITZER: What's -- what's it going to be like, her working, for example, on this court with Samuel Alito or Antonin Scalia, who might come at a lot of these issues from a very different perspective?

TOOBIN: Well, in some respects, they will have a lot in common, because Ruth Ginsburg is from Brooklyn, Antonin Scalia is from Queens, and Sonia Sotomayor is from the Bronx, so there will be three New Yorkers on the Supreme Court if she's confirmed.

The real unknown about Sonia Sotomayor is, she's a moderate liberal. But freed of the obligation to follow Supreme Court precedent and instead to set it is, how liberal will she be? For example, what does she think about the death penalty? The federal appeals court where she sits covers New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.

They -- they generate almost no death penalty cases. We have -- we have no idea what her record is on that. She's decided almost nothing about abortion, gay rights, issues that are bound to come up in the Supreme Court.

And you can bet at her confirmation hearings, the senators are going to try to figure out what she thinks about those hot-button issues.

BLITZER: Is it possible that she could surprise a lot of liberals and maybe turn out, for example, on Roe vs. Wade, not so liberal, shall we say?

TOOBIN: It is possible.

But the myth of the surprise president is mostly a myth. It is true that David Souter surprised George Herbert Walker Bush. But if you look at all the justices since then, if you look at the two Clinton appointments, Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, appointed by President Bush, they have all turned out to be pretty much as expected.

And my guess is, based on her long paper trail, Sonia Sotomayor will be a moderate liberal, like Ginsburg and Breyer.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.


Now let's go back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Republicans who are making the most noise these days seem to be ones attracting the fewest followers.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, when it comes to Republicans, 70 percent of Americans favor former Secretary of State Colin Powell, while just 30 percent favor right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

Then you factor in a previous CNN poll which found just 37 percent of Americans favor former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has not been at a loss for words exactly of late. After being virtually silent for eight years, these days, Cheney can't or won't stop talking.

If you narrow it down further and look at the responses of only Republicans, it's about a three-way tie, 66 percent Cheney, 64 percent Powell, 62 percent Limbaugh. At a time when the GOP's trying to rid itself of the legacy of the Bush administration, two former government leaders and a talk show host are the ones who are making headlines, and two out of three for the wrong reasons.

These three have been butting heads lately. These childish name- calling games have been going on. Powell has said Republicans should stop listening to Limbaugh, while Cheney and Limbaugh have proclaimed that Powell's no longer a Republican. Powell says he is still a Republican and denies their charges.

It's all a bit silly, but it's interesting. Here's the question: Who would Republicans be better off listening to, Colin Powell, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you. Choosing a nominee who could sit on the Supreme Court for decades raises some delicate health issues. Is Sonia Sotomayor's diabetes fair game?

Also, as North Korea celebrates its latest nuclear test, the United States is furious. But is Washington running out of options for punishing the communist North?

And California's high court upholds a voter-approved ban on same- sex marriage. We will tell you why thousands of gay couples can still find something positive in the ruling.


BLITZER: The United States is talking tough following North Korea's nuclear tests, but is Washington running out of options for dealing with the North?

Let's go to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's taking a closer look at what the options are.

Jill, what are you finding out?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, actions must have consequences. That's what the United States is warning North Korea. But the State Department says it's not ready yet to change its diplomatic approach to the North.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): In Pyongyang, North Koreans celebrate what they call a nuclear victory. In New York, a frustrated U.N. Security Council pushes forward with a resolution to punish the North.

SUSAN RICE, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: They're going to find that they will pay a price, because the international community is very clear. This is not acceptable. It won't be tolerated.

DOUGHERTY: Officials say the U.S. wants the Security Council to tighten existing sanctions, intercept nuclear cargo to and from North Korea, cut off financing for the North's nuclear program, and possibly even ban the North's lucrative sale of conventional weapons, eliminating a source of income.

North Korea must pay a price, but, even so, the Obama administration still wants to talk.

IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Patience obviously is not infinite, but we -- we feel the door does still remain open, that we -- we're ready to engage, and we hope that North Korea will -- will make the right choice.

DOUGHERTY: Despite what it calls reckless behavior by North Korea, the Obama administration is sticking to patient diplomacy, hoping a united front with North Korea's neighbors, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea, could bring the North back to the negotiating table.

A top adviser to President Obama claims that approach ultimately will work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My prediction is that, at the end of the day, the North Koreans will find that they have no choice but to engage in the six-party talks again, because there's no other alternative.


DOUGHERTY: Behind the scenes, however, officials question whether those increased sanctions really can work and whether the six- party talks can survive if the North refuses to take part -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots at stake right now.

Jill, thanks very much.

In California right now, the battle over same-sex marriages takes another turn. The state Supreme Court today upheld Proposition H -- 8, that is -- reversing legalized gay marriage.

Let's go to CNN's Dan Simon, who is joining us from San Francisco right now.

All right, Dan, tell us what happened today, and specifically what happens to those 18,000 couples that got married legally before Proposition 8?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, this is the -- the same state Supreme Court which last year ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Then voters had their say with Proposition 8.

What the state Supreme Court is now saying is that majority rules. Take a look.


SIMON (voice-over): They streamed out of the courthouse holding the thick 136-page ruling, quickly scanning the pages. Moments later, hundreds of gay rights activists began chanting in unison.

ACTIVISTS: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!

SIMON: "Shame on you" -- their words directed at the Supreme Court justices who upheld Proposition 8.

By a 6-1 margin, the court ruled it does not violate the California Constitution. That means same-sex marriage is still banned in the country's largest state.

DANA GEORGE, GAY RIGHTS SUPPORTER: It's absolutely outrageous that, in the United States of America, this day and age, that the Constitution is -- is -- is able to deny the rights of Americans.

SIMON: But for the 18,000 same-sex couples who got married prior to Prop 8, the court ruled those marriages will remain valid, grandfathered in.

Kathleen White is among that group.

KATHLEEN WHITE, GAY RIGHTS SUPPORTER: It's nice that my marriage is still intact, but it's -- that's not the point. The point is, is that everybody should have the same civil rights across the board. I mean, to me, this is the equivalent of saying -- putting a measure on the ballot that says people over 50 can't vote.

SIMON: Not surprising, here in San Francisco, Prop 8 defenders were dwarfed by gay rights advocates, but for supporters of the ballot measure, this is a day to celebrate.

NADIA CHAYKA, PROPOSITION 8 SUPPORTER: I want my children to know that there is a mom, a woman, and there is a man, a father. And that's where children come from, from that -- from that union. And I don't want them to be any more confused about whether -- where do children come from.


SIMON: Hundreds of gay rights activists here in San Francisco took to the streets this afternoon. For the most part, things have been peaceful. But there have been some arrests, with people blocking the streets, that kind of thing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So what happens next, Dan?

SIMON: Well, what happens next, one leading gay rights organization in California is already vowing to put this issue back on the ballot. So it's possible that, come next year, that voters here in the state of California will be asked to weigh in again on this same-sex marriage.

Last time, for Prop 8, back in November, it was a 52-48 percent margin, so still very divided in this state in terms of where things should go.

BLITZER: Dan Simon, in San Francisco, thank you.

She wanted to be a detective, like the storybook Nancy Drew. Sonia Sotomayor's diabetes may have held her back from following in the footsteps of her literary hero. Will it be an issue, though, in her confirmation hearings?

And is it payback time for Republicans? Ed Gillespie steered two nominations through Senate hearings. He's here with a forecast of what standard Sonia Sotomayor -- Sotomayor could be held to.

And a stunning turnaround in the case of a boy who fled with his mother to escape cancer treatment -- we will tell you what a judge has ruled.


BLITZER: She was diagnosed with diabetes as a young child. Sonia Sotomayor's condition, is it going to be an issue during the confirmation process?

Let's go to CNN's Elaine Quijano. She's taking a closer look.

What are you finding out, Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, picking a nominee who could sit on the court for decades can get into some sensitive medical issues. Experts say, with a president's legacy on the line, a candidate's health is very much part of the equation.


QUIJANO (voice-over): At 8 years old, Sonia Sotomayor was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a lifelong disease that back in the 1960s meant she couldn't follow in the footsteps of her hero from the Nancy Drew mystery stories.

OBAMA: She was informed that people with diabetes can't grow up to be police officers or private investigators like Nancy Drew. In essence she was told she'd have to scale back her dreams.

QUIJANO: According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Type 1 diabetes lowers life expectancy an average of seven to 10 years.

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says health issues are fair game.

TOOBIN: It's perfectly appropriate for a president to ask a judicial nominee about his or her health, because the length of tenure is a big deal to a president in extending his own legacy through judicial appointments.

QUIJANO: Toobin notes the case of the late Judge Richard Arnold, whose cancer was a factor in being passed over for the high court.

TOOBIN: It came back that he was not cured. And almost for that reason alone, President Clinton did not nominate Richard Arnold. And, sadly, Richard Arnold did, in fact, die of that cancer.

QUIJANO: But doctors say if Type 1 diabetes patients monitor their blood sugar and take daily insulin shots, they can expect long, productive lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In my opinion, a person with Type 1 diabetes can do nearly everything. I think that she's already demonstrated to us by going through college, law school, and becoming a judge that she has the capability to manage herself quite well.


QUIJANO: Now, the American Diabetes Association applauded today's nomination, saying people with diabetes should not be discriminated against. Nearly 24 million Americans have diabetes. It's estimated about 10 percent of them have Type 1 diabetes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much for that, Elaine Quijano. Interesting stuff.

Stand by for the best political team on television and pressing questions about the president's new Supreme Court nominee. Are Sonia Sotomayor's views on abortion all that clear? And are abortion rights groups having any doubts?

Plus, President Obama's past criticism of Justice Samuel Alito, will it be used against him when his nominee is in the hot seat?

And some conservative groups are calling her a liberal, but is Sotomayor actually a bipartisan pick?



Happening now: A strong jump in consumer confidence gives Wall Street a much-needed boost. The Dow and the S&P are up, up more than 2 percent. The Nasdaq is up more than 3.

A last-ditch effort by General Motors to avoid bankruptcy, a tentative deal with the United Auto Workers to fund a trust that pays retirees' health care costs.

And a federal judge is clearing the way for the Senate Ethics Committee to hear secret FBI tapes of talks between Senator Roland Burris and the brother of the man who appointed him, the former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich -- all of this, plus the best political team to television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Even before President Obama had finished introducing his Supreme Court choice, supporters and opponents of Sonia Sotomayor had plenty to say about her and her nomination. But the views of senators may matter the most, because they are the ones who will decide whether or not she gets the job.

Our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, reports.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Congress in recess, halls on Capitol Hill are empty, and senators greeted the news of Sonia Sotomayor's nomination with a flurry of press releases.

Republicans had their talking points, promising to treat her fairly, but insisting Sotomayor must show she does not decide cases based on personal or political preferences, personal preferences or political views, ideological or personal opinion.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee like Chuck Grassley stuck to the coordinated message.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: The committee has to take time to make sure the nominee will be true to the Constitution and apply the law rather than personal politics, feelings or preferences.

KEILAR: Republican lawyers are already combing Sotomayor's record and scrutinizing past statements like this one: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

But Democrats on the Judiciary Committee say her background and experience are just what the court needs.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: So, you combine the great legal mind and the down-to-earth experience, what a combination. She's going to bring that, and that's going to matter.


BLITZER: Brianna Keilar reporting for us from Capitol Hill. The hearings will get started this summer.

Back in 1998, Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed to her current U.S. Appeals Court seat by a vote of 67 in favor to 29 opposed. All 29 senators who voted against her were Republican. Eleven Republicans now serving in the Senate voted against her confirmation back in 1998 out of the 29 Republicans who voted no. Eight current members of the Senate voted for Sotomayor's confirmation in 1998 out of the 25 GOP yes votes in all. One of those Republicans then, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, is a Democrat now.

Sonia Sotomayor right now is at the center of an all-out political campaign to win her confirmation.

Former Bush White House counselor Ed Gillespie knows a thing or two about that. He helped guided the chief justice, John Roberts, and Justice Samuel Alito, through the process.

I spoke with him today and asked him about what Judge Sotomayor can expect in the weeks and months ahead.


ED GILLESPIE, FORMER COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, traditionally the standard had been that elections have consequences and it is the prerogative of the president to appoint replacements to the Supreme Court. And if they're qualified in terms of temperament, intellect, experience, then it is -- you know, the default position for senators should be to vote to confirm the nominees. That was the custom and the practice through the confirmations of Justices Ginsburg and -- and...

BLITZER: And Stephen Breyer.

GILLESPIE: Stephen Breyer.

That changed when President Bush put forward Chief Justice Roberts -- John Roberts as the nominee and Samuel Alito. And the Democrats in the Senate said that's not the standard anymore. From now on, the standard is, for many of us, do we think that this person will rule down the line in a way that we think is -- is appropriate?

And if we don't, we will vote against them. In fact, astonishingly, 40 out of 44 Democrats in the Senate voted against Samuel Alito. No one could make the case that he wasn't qualified in terms of intellect and temperament and experience. Half of the Senate Democrats voted against Chief Justice Roberts.

And so my point is the Democrats can't have one standard that applies to judged put forward by a Republican president and Republicans have a different standard for (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: So -- and that's why you write: "Republicans cannot accept the premise that it's OK for liberals to vote against Supreme Court nominees who believe in a strict constructionist judicial philosophy, but not OK for conservatives to vote against those who embrace empathetic activism on the bench."

Now, he wants -- the president -- somebody who is empathetic.


BLITZER: And so -- but you say empathetic activism is a no-no.

GILLESPIE: Well, I think if you're -- if you're going to have a -- a philosophical standard apply, as the Democrats have done to Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts, if the Republicans don't adopt the same standard, you are setting up an inexorable move to the left of the Supreme Court, because Republican presidents won't be able, possibly, to get their nominees confirmed and Democrats will easily get their nominees confirmed.

BLITZER: So is it going to be payback this time, do you think?

GILLESPIE: It's not a matter of payback, Wolf. It's a matter of saying are we all going to play by the rules?

Are we going to have the same standards from the left and the right to judicial nominees, especially to the Supreme Court, with a lifetime appointment and the consequences that brings to bear.

BLITZER: Well, what I hear you saying is if these Republicans vote against Sonia Sotomayor, it will be because Barack Obama voted -- in part, because Barack Obama voted against Alito and Roberts.

GILLESPIE: No. What I'm saying is it will be because they are concerned about the judicial philosophy, not just the temperament and the intellect and the experience. But taking the same standard, that they're concerned about the judicial philosophy. It's not payback. It is the same standard. And I think that's important.


BLITZER: Former Bush White House counselor Ed Gillespie speaking with me earlier.

Her nomination is only hours old, but Judge Sonia Sotomayor is already being haunted by a video circulating on the Internet -- the remarks that her critics are seizing on.

Plus, new developments in the case of the teenager who fled court-ordered chemotherapy. We have details of the judge's new order.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story, the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to become a United States Supreme Court justice.

A videotape, though, of what she said several years ago is making the rounds on YouTube right now and it's sparking controversy.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, what did she say?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this was an unguarded moment from 2005 -- Sonia Sotomayor at a Duke University panel unearthed now and on YouTube.


SOTOMAYOR: 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.


TATTON: That line: "the court of appeals is where policy is made," was made in the greater context of a question that Sotomayor was asked about clerking at the district versus appeals court level.

That YouTube video now already appearing on Web sites of conservative organizations who are targeting Sotomayor as an activist judge -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Let's bring in our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian; and our CNN political analyst, Roland Martin -- all right, Gloria, on the issue of abortion rights for women -- because we don't really know a whole lot about where she stands, the Supreme Court nominee -- NARAL and Pro-Choice America issued a statement: "We look forward to learning more about Judge Sotomayor's views on the right to privacy and the landmark "Roe v. Wade" decision as the Senate's hearing process moves forward."

Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, says: "For all of the -- all the president's talk of finding common ground, this appointment completely contradicts that hallowed promise. Judge Sonia Sotomayor's judicial philosophy undermines common ground. She is a radical pick that divides America."

All right, so we really don't know that much about her views on abortion.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. Clearly, she hasn't ruled on that question. And, in fact, when the White House press secretary was asked today whether the president has asked her about "Roe v. Wade," he said he believed that President Obama had not.

I don't think that the success or failure of this nomination is going to focus on the so-called cultural wedge issues, because she doesn't have a long paper trail on those issues.

It's going to focus on what Abbi Tatton was talking about just a moment ago, which is how she views her behavior as a judge -- would she legislate from the bench, would she be an activist.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, how confident are they at the White House that this nomination is going to sail through?

LOTHIAN: Well, you know, they're not saying that -- saying it in those words. But certainly they feel very confident that they have done their homework. Robert Gibbs was asked whether there were any surprises. Someone even threw out there whether she had paid her taxes. And they said that she had been fully vetted.

So there is a certain sort of guarded optimism here that they will move through with this confirmation. And Robert Gibbs also pointing out that the president will play a very active role in making sure that this confirmation happens. We talked about this earlier, Wolf, the president has already been making phone calls up on Capitol Hill to some of the key lawmakers to sort of ease the way to this confirmation.

BLITZER: John King is here, also -- John, I want you to listen to what then Senator Barack Obama said back in January 2006 in announcing, basically, his opposition to Samuel Alito, who was then being considered for the Supreme Court.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: I believe firmly that the Constitution calls for the Senate to advise and consent. I believe that it calls for meaningful advice and consent that includes an examination of a judge's philosophy, ideology and record. And when I examine the philosophy, ideology and record of Samuel Alito, I am deeply troubled.


BLITZER: And he voted against Alito. And he also voted against Chief Justice John Roberts.

Some are saying the precedent that he set is going to give Republicans in the Senate an opening to do the same, as far as this nominee is concerned.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, Republicans in the Senate and conservative groups that want them to take their time here and stand up to this nominee are citing just that remark you just played there.

There's two schools of thought. One is the president gets his pick, unless the nominee has some tax issue, a vetting issue or has done something egregious. The president wins the election, he gets his picks.

The other school of thought is outlined just there by then Senator Obama, where you look at everything. You look at ideology. You look at temperament. You look through the record.

And so Senator Obama set that standard. And now President Obama will hear that quote used again and again and again as Republicans say we are going to look at everything this judge has said, everything she has written and go way beyond her compelling life story to look at every case she has sat in on.

BLITZER: So what do you think, Roland, as you look ahead for the next few weeks -- maybe couple of months, three months, who knows?

They want to get this thing resolved this summer.

How much problems -- if any serious problems do you think will happen?

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I really don't see serious problems here. I mean, obviously, you have the right. What they want to do is they want to paint her as being as radical as possible. And Obama certainly is gearing up for any potential fight.

But the bottom line is the numbers are, frankly, on their side. This is a pick the left is going to be satisfied with, unlike when Harriet Miers was chosen by President George W. Bush. The right flat out said I'm sorry, not conservative enough.

And so, look, he has the numbers on his side. The Dems control the Senate. They can get this passed. The only way this becomes a problem is if she simply implodes herself. I doubt very seriously the right has any real chance to derail her nomination based upon, frankly, where she comes from.

BLITZER: And, you know, Gloria, as soon as the president was speaking this morning, one of the first things out of his mouth was that the first President Bush nominated her for the federal bench to begin with, she got confirmed and then later Bill Clinton moved her up to the Court of Appeals, the second highest court in the land.

She was confirmed in 1998 by a vote of 67-29. Twenty-five Republicans voted for her, including eight that are still in the Senate today, one of those being Arlen Specter, who's now a Democrat.

So I -- I assume they're going to play that out.

BORGER: Yes. It was a -- it was a great talking point for the White House -- you know, appointed by a Democratic president and a Republican president. Except, when you look back at the history of how George H.W. Bush appointed her, it's because he cut a deal with Senate Democrats because there was such a backlog of judicial appointments that the Republican senator at the time, Alfonse D'Amato, got five picks and the Democratic senator at the time, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, got two. And one of his pick was Sotomayor.

MARTIN: But, you know, Gloria...

BORGER: And that's how her name came up.

MARTIN: But, you know, Gloria, the general public, all they're going to see is that she was picked by a Republican president.

KING: Right.

BORGER: But that...

MARTIN: And that's how it's going to play.

BORGER: ...the...

MARTIN: The inside stuff, somebody who was in Illinois, somebody who was in Arizona, they don't know any of that.

BORGER: And she was -- and she was approved. But the history shows...

MARTIN: Right.

BORGER: ...that it was a Democrat who suggested her.

BLITZER: But the president of the United States at that time, George Herbert Walker Bush, made that decision.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And what do you -- do you expect, John, as this long hearing -- knowing the makeup of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Patrick Leahy is the chairman. I think Jeff Sessions of Alabama is now the ranking Republican. Orrin Hatch used to be the ranking Republican.

What do you think, pretty collegial or fireworks?

KING: Senator Sessions is more partisan than, say, Senator Arlen Specter or Senator Hatch. Make no questions about that. And he is under a lot of pressure from conservative groups to stand up to this nominee and especially, Wolf, to stretch out the nomination process for legitimate policy reasons, conservatives say, but also for political reasons.

The right has been demoralized. This is a fundraising opportunity. It sounds crass, but this is an organizing and a fundraising opportunity as much as it is a policy debate.

And one interesting quick other point. President Obama, when he was a senator, criticized interest groups on both sides. He said they played way too much politics with this, liberal and conservative groups.

It is some liberal groups today saying they want to hear more from Judge Sotomayor about the right to privacy, about abortion rights. And by raising that -- by having people on the left say that's a legitimate line of inquiry, the White House may come to regret that its allies are asking that, because conservatives are going to say...

BLITZER: You know...

KING: know what, you're absolutely right.


KING: Let's ask those questions.

BLITZER: Hold on a second. I want to bring Dan Lothian in -- Dan, you're at the White House.

There were three other finalists who didn't make it.

Can we assume that if there is another opening on the U.S. Supreme Court one of those three might make it the next time?

What are they saying over there at the White House?

LOTHIAN: Well, they're not talking about the future just yet, Wolf. But certainly you can assume that if they made it to this point, in the final four, those three would be top candidates if another vacancy did come up.

Napolitano, over at Homeland Security secretary, obviously, being one of them, as well.

But, you know, when senior administration officials were asked today about, you know, whether the president didn't want to pick her because he didn't want to give up one of sort of his star secretaries, they pointed out, well, you know, he had other reasons for going with his choice.

But, certainly, she was a very good -- she was a very good pick. He could have easily gone with her. He could have easily gone with the other two, as well.

But he said he really felt comfortable having Napolitano in the position where she currently is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Roland, the Republicans -- you were saying that some of them -- conservative groups -- are going to try to raise money and energize the base in going after Sonia Sotomayor.

But, you know what, if the Republicans want to win back some of the Hispanic vote, they have to be really careful here.

MARTIN: Oh, look, you know, they must do a serious dance around this particular topic. And, look, I don't think the White House is denying the reality of the position that puts them in.

For instance, when you've heard Republicans criticize questioning her intellectual capability of being a Supreme Court justice, trust me, when you are a minority, that strikes you in a different way when somebody questions your intellect to be able to do a job.

And, so, yes, they have to do a very serious dance. They have to stay focused on her credentials as opposed to those very subjective things...

BLITZER: All right...

MARTIN: ...along those lines, in terms of her mind.

BLITZER: Hold on...

BORGER: But the Republicans...

BLITZER: Gloria, Gloria, we're out of time. But we've got to leave it right there.

Guys, thanks very much. We'll continue. We've got weeks of these confirmation hearings coming up, so we'll have plenty of time for all of us to discuss.

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: A great scene setter, Wolf.

Thank you.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll have complete coverage tonight of the president's choice of federal appellate court Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court -- a choice that has some accusing the president of putting group and identity politics before merit.

Also, North Korea defying the Obama administration and the United Nations -- again -- one day after conducting a nuclear weapons test. We'll have a special report tonight for you on the Obama administration's struggle to stop North Korea's escalating threats.

And the California Supreme Court has upheld a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, but also ruling same-sex marriages that took place before the ban are valid. We'll tell you what's next in this ongoing battle.

And the very latest on the fight over cancer patient Daniel Hauser, who's back in Minnesota with his mother -- his mother refusing court-ordered chemotherapy.

Join us for that story, all of the day's news and a lot more, at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou. Thank you.

He fled his state to avoid court-ordered chemotherapy. Now, a cancer-stricken teenager faces that treatment in just days.

And a discuss about James Brown's estate years after his death -- where the late singer's money will go.


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


A judge in Minnesota has ruled that a 13-year-old cancer patient, Daniel Hauser, must undergo chemotherapy. A hearing was held today. A judge says the treatment will begin on Thursday. The boy will be allowed to live with his parents as long as they comply with the judge's wishes. Daniel and his mother, you'll recall, vanished a week ago to avoid chemotherapy. They were searching for alternative treatments. They returned home yesterday.

Almost two-and-a-half years after his death, the Godfather of Soul's much disputed estate has finally been settled. Today, a judge in South Carolina ordered about half of the late James Brown's estate go to his charitable trust. A quarter will go to his fourth wife and their young son. The rest will go to the late singer's adult children -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: The hardest working man in show business -- that's what they used to say.

Alina, thank you.

CHO: You bet.

BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: How much money was involved?

Did they say?

I wonder if it's...

BLITZER: I don't know.

CAFFERTY: I imagine he had probably had amassed a sizable fortune.


CAFFERTY: He was pretty successful for a long time -- not unlike yourself, actually.

BLITZER: I'm a hard working guy, too.

CAFFERTY: Yes, you are.

The question this hour is: Who would Republicans be better off listening to, Colin Powell, Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney?

And it's not a trick question.

Cheryl in Texas writes: "Republicans would be better off listening to Colin Powell. However, America would be better off if Republicans listened to Limbaugh and Cheney. That way, they'll be kept from returning to power."

Janne in North Carolina: "Colin Powell definitely is the best representative of the Republican Party. Unlike how the media tries to portray us, we are not all ultra conservative nuts. Most of us are pretty middle of the road. I proudly believe that Cal Perry is the new face of the grand old party."

Terry in Arizona writes: "At 60 years old, I'm a life long Republican who is disgusted with the way the right-wing fanatics have taken control of the party. If the party doesn't care to listen to Colin Powell, they deserve the losses they will continue to receive."

Chris in Buffalo, New York: "Well, General Powell has stated the Republican Party needs to move to the center. In 2008, the Republicans nominated one of the most recognizable centrists in the party, John McCain. General Powell endorsed his opponent. Senator McCain got creamed at the election, so common sense tells me either Limbaugh or Cheney would have to be the ones to listen to."

Gordon in New Jersey: "As a one time Reagan Democrat, I could see myself voting for a fiscally conservative, secular Republican like Colin Powell, but not for a Cheney-Palin Christian conservative. I just don't trust politicians who wear their religion on their sleeve."

And Will writes: "So the choice is between a decorated veteran, a radio shock jock and a draft-dodging torturer. Man, that's a tough one."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

I will see you tomorrow -- Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: I'm looking forward to it, Jack.

Thank you.

Vice President Biden seemed more nervous than the nominee. She handled her debut quite easily. The hard part came when reporters came trying to tackle her name. Jeanne Moos finds it all "Moost Unusual."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're just learning right now that North Korea has fired another pair of short range missiles earlier today on its East Coast, clearly escalating tensions right now. This coming in from the South Korean news agency, quoting a South Korean official.

Lou Dobbs is going to have a lot more on this story coming up in the next hour.

Every little nuance, every little aside, every little gesture -- all of it watched very closely.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Courting Supreme Court style involved handshakes and pats, handshakes and kisses, kisses and whispers, advice from the vice -- president.

OBAMA: Don't be nervous.

MOOS: "Don't be nervous," followed moments later by...


MOOS: And then when she finished her speech...

BIDEN: I told you, piece of cake.

MOOS: But what isn't a piece of cake is pronouncing her name.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judge Sotomayor's court...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judge Sonia Sotomy -- mayor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What a moment for Sonia Sothamayor.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Sonia Sotomayar -- mayar -- you know, we're all learning to pronounce her name.

MOOS: Even the president seemed to vary his pronunciation.

OBAMA: Judge Sotomayor. Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

MOOS: Not to be confused with that other Sotomayor from Cuba, perhaps the best high jumper ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A new world record for...


BLITZER: All right. We're going to have to, unfortunately, play that piece for you tomorrow.

Jeanne Moos reporting.

We've got some technical issues going on.

I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.