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Bush Nominates Roberts as Supreme Court Chief Justice

Aired September 5, 2005 - 08:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Bush is expected to announce at that podium in the Oval Office in just a few moments the nomination of Judge John Roberts to be the chief justice of the United States.

Joining us on the phone right now, our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin -- Jeff, we're about, I'd say, 70 seconds away, a minute away.

So, quickly, what's your thoughts on this decision by the White House, to elevate John Roberts to a chief justice nominee?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it seems to make a lot of sense for the White House. John Roberts' nomination as associate justice had received almost universal praise. He seemed to be heading for confirmation. He is 50 years old. He's likely to be chief justice now for decades. And he is, as far as anyone can tell, a serious, committed conservative, as is President Bush.

So it seems like a very sensible pick from the Bush administration's perspective.

M. O'BRIEN: We talked about this yesterday, Jeff, the difference being a chief justice.

What additional real power does a chief justice have? Or is it more about symbolism and just making the court work in a specific way?

TOOBIN: There is one specific power that it's...

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Jeff, the president has just walked in.

Stand by.

We'll talk to you on the back side of this.


M. O'BRIEN: Here's the president.

BUSH: This summer, I announced the nomination of Judge John Roberts to be associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. I chose John Roberts from among the most distinguished jurists and attorneys in the country because he possesses the intellect, experience and temperament to be an outstanding member of our nation's highest court. In the past two months, members of the United States Senate and the American people have learned about the career and character of Judge Roberts. They like what they see. He's a gentleman. He's a man of integrity and fairness and throughout his life he's inspired the respect and loyalty of others.

John Roberts has built a record of excellence and achievement and a reputation for goodwill and decency toward others.

In his extraordinary career, John Roberts has argued 39 cases before the nation's highest court. When I nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, he was confirmed by unanimous consent. Both those who have worked with him and those who have faced him in the courtroom speak with admiration of his striking ability as a lawyer and his natural gifts as a leader.

John Roberts has earned the nation's confidence and I'm pleased to announce that I will nominate him to serve as the 17th chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The passing of Chief Justice William Rehnquist leaves the center chair empty just four weeks left before the Supreme Court reconvenes. It is in the interests of the court and the country to have a chief justice on the bench on the first full day of the fall term.

The Senate is well along in the process of considering John Roberts' qualifications. They know his record and his fidelity to the law. I'm confident that the Senate can complete hearings and confirm him as chief justice within a month.

As a result of my decision to nominate John Roberts to be chief justice, I also have the responsibility to submit a new nominate to follow Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. I will do so in a timely manner.

Twenty-five years ago, John Roberts came to Washington as a clerk to Justice William Rehnquist. In his boss, the young law clerk found a role model, a professional mentor and a friend for life. I'm certain that Chief Justice Rehnquist is hoping to welcome John Roberts as a colleague and we're all sorry that they didn't come.

It is fitting that a great chief justice be followed in office by a person who shared his deep reverence for the constitution, his profound respect for the Supreme Court and his complete devotion to the cause of justice.



Thank you.

I am honored and humbled by the confidence that the president has shown in me and I'm very much aware that if I am confident, I would succeed a man I deeply respect and admire, a man who has been very kind to me for 25 years. Thank you, Mr. President, for that special opportunity.

BUSH: Thank you, John.

M. O'BRIEN: The president of the United States along with John Roberts.

The president on his way now to the hurricane stricken region. Obviously an emotional moment for John Roberts.

Bob Franken is on the North Lawn there.

That -- I don't know if you were able to see that, as we call it in the business, cutaway shot, of John Roberts as the president referred to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. It was clear it was a very emotional moment for him.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Justice Rehnquist, Chief Justice Rehnquist was immensely popular with his clerks. John Roberts was one of them. As a matter of fact, they had an annual reunion. Rehnquist had one and appeared at it this year and had left people reassured that he was fighting and winning his battle with thyroid cancer, which, of course, we now know he did not.

In a certain sense, certainly it is. And also an overwhelming moment for a man who only in recent months has been mentioned for the Supreme Court and only a couple of years removed from being a very high priced lawyer in town. Now he's going to be the chief justice of the United States. And at 50 years old, he can be expected to be that for a long time.

But as the president pointed out, he wanted to make this announcement in a timely manner, and timely it was. So we'll have to see how quickly he makes the announcement about the new associate justice, who will be the stand-in for justice -- for John Roberts now that he's going to be named chief.

In the meantime, we have Sandra Day O'Connor, who has promised to stay on the court until she has a replacement, which now no longer will be John Roberts.

What this does, also, Miles, is it takes off the table a major, major announcement that had to be made, a major decision that had to be made, when the president needs to focus tremendous amounts of energy to try and correct the perceptions that his administration was somewhat indifferent in its initial responses to Katrina.

The president leaves this announcement and goes back to the region for a series of meetings.

So it gets things done in a hurry.

Now it'll be up to the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings.

One last thing, while Roberts will be in place on October 3, that's not a lot of time. On October 3, the court starts hearing arguments. So you can only suggest and guess that while Roberts is preparing for these confirmation hearings, he's also paying some attention to the cases that are going to be argued on October 3.

He's going to be a very busy man.

M. O'BRIEN: I should say. I should say. Although I'm sure he's a voracious and good reader, given his skills as a lawyer.

Jeff Toobin is on the line with us, as well.

You know, Jeff, one of the scenarios which we conjured up yesterday was this notion of potentially three hearings underway if one of the associate justices was elevated. That would be a hearing. Then the Roberts hearing and then one to replace the other associate justice vacancy.

This is a much more simple course of action and perhaps simplicity is the thing to do right now.

TOOBIN: Very much so given all that is on the plate for the president and the Senate. One confirmation hearing for chief justice, one to replace Sandra Day O'Connor makes everyone's path a lot clearer. And, also, I think, a close to confirmation -- controversy free hearing, at least for one of the seats, because John Roberts, while, you know, some questions had been raised by Democrats and surely there will be some tough questioning, by my counting there is not a single senator, at this point, on record as promising to oppose John Roberts, much less anything like 40 senators to keep a filibuster going or 50 senators to defeat him.

So I think, you know, the odds are overwhelming he will be confirmed by the first Monday in October, when the court starts.

M. O'BRIEN: When the president walked in, we were in the midst of explaining to our viewers the powers or the symbolism of the job, whatever it is. Help people understand what it means to be a chief justice versus an associate justice.

TOOBIN: Well, there is one specific power that a chief justice has which is the chief justice assigns which justice writes a majority opinion when the chief justice is in the majority. And that can be a very important power because opinions are different depending on which justice writes them.

That said, it is not an overwhelming power. The chief justice only has one vote, like every other justice. And beyond that, it's a symbolic power, but symbols matter. You know, we talk about the Rehnquist court, the Burger court, when Warren Burger was chief, especially the Warren court, which changed America so much with "Brown v. Board of Education" and "Miranda v. Arizona."

So, you know, we will now spend, presumably, 30 years in the Roberts court. And that is an immense responsibility in American history and that -- so the symbolic power really is greater than the actual power. But as I say, symbols matter. M. O'BRIEN: OK, let's talk about this notion of bringing in a chief justice from the outside.

First of all, I don't have the numbers in front of me and I'm not trying to quiz you on the numbers, but generally speaking, it is more likely -- and history has told us it's more likely for a president to choose from the current ranks of associate justices, correct?

TOOBIN: Well, actually, as I recall -- and I don't have the numbers in front of me -- I think it's about half and half.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, really? OK.

TOOBIN: It's about half of the chief justices have been brought in from the outside, half promoted from within. Just, let's think of the last three, because that takes us back to the 1950s and, you know, that's a long time.

Chief Justice Rehnquist was promoted from within. The last two, Warren Burger was brought in, as John Roberts was brought in, from a judgeship on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Before that, Earl Warren was governor of California before he was chief justice.

So it really is not the -- there is no long established pattern. Each one is taken as different. And you can see the arguments on both sides. There's the sort of familiarity with the court that an associate justice would have, but then there's also the tensions generated by promoting one among equals instead of just bringing in someone new altogether.

If I can just, you know, I have a story in the "New Yorker" coming out this -- today about Anthony Kennedy, Justice Kennedy. And I asked Justice Kennedy about John Roberts. And he really was very enthusiastic about him. This was, of course, only when Roberts was nominated to be an associate justice, but he said he was a marvelous oral advocate. And then he said something which I think was significant. He said we feel like we know him because he's argued in front of the court so much.

And so I think he will be a popular choice among the justices, not that they have any choice in the matter.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. They don't get a vote on this one.

TOOBIN: Not this. It's one of the rare occasions they don't get a v.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. No appeals to the Supreme Court on these choices.

Jeff Toobin, I look forward to seeing that piece, by the way. I know you've been working hard on that one. That'll be in this week's "New Yorker."

Let's check back in with Soledad. And in the wake of Katrina, we find her right at the corner of Bourbon and Canal Street, the French Quarter of New Orleans -- good morning, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And good morning to you, again, Miles.

And as we've been saying, the efforts now move from rescuing survivors to the recovery of bodies. This morning we're going to take you out with some volunteers who have been helping to rescue people and recover people. And we'll show you a little bit of their, frankly, pretty grizzly work.

That's ahead.

Stay with us.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

This morning we are at the corner of Canal Street and Bourbon Street, a big tourist district, obviously, for anybody who knows New Orleans. And I want to show you the water here. Right here, at this corner, the start of the corner, it's only about six inches deep. But, Jay, if you pan back, you can see it gets deeper and deeper and deeper. And as you start getting into the neighborhoods, in some places it can be four feet deep.

This morning, boats filled with volunteers will get back into the water in these neighborhoods. They're going to try to help rescue people.

We went out in one neighborhood, in New Orleans East, here the silence, really, is all that's emanating. We have, this morning, a little bit of a grizzly report. We're sorry for that, but it is what we're seeing out here.


S. O'BRIEN (voice-over): Thirty-five volunteers from R&R Construction in Lake Charles, Louisiana have arrived with their boats. Their boss sent them into New Orleans and since Tuesday they've been rescuing people from their homes.

Today, Stanley Patrick, an iron worker, has been asked to search for an elderly man who's been missing since hurricane Katrina struck.

(on camera): This is, or was, Reed Street. You can see even a week after hurricane Katrina hit and Lake Pontchartrain basically entered into the streets, you can see just how much water and damage there still is, one week later. They've spent the last several days plucking people off their roofs and out of their homes and bringing them to safety.

The water stinks. Just sewage, really.

(voice-over): We motor past flooded homes, downed trees, submerged cars. It's easy to forget this is a road, not a river. In a neighborhood that used to house many elderly people.

(on camera): You can see how problematic the rescue efforts have been. You have house after house after house after house after house underwater, several feet, no way to reach people and no real way to know who's alive and who's not. They come out here every day, all day, in shifts, and basically search for people and search for bodies.

(voice-over): Choppers search the neighborhood from above and that's pretty much the only noise you hear -- no cries for help, no signs for life.

(on camera): We're going down this way.

(voice-over): The water is nearly four feet high. We've arrived. Stanley grabs a sledge hammer. Within minutes, he's inside and wading through waist high water, searching for any signs of life, first through the kitchen, past the bathroom. Finally in a back bedroom, there is a body, floating face down in the high water.

With no good news, he climbs out of the house and back into the boat.

STANLEY PATRICK, RESCUE VOLUNTEER: The bedroom, that's where I found him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The back bedroom?


And I don't think we'll find anybody else alive. I really don't.

S. O'BRIEN: This is not the first time he's recovered bodies. He did it in hurricane Andrew.

PATRICK: It's not easy.

S. O'BRIEN: His prediction is dire. If this neighborhood is any indication, the number of dead will be astronomical.

PATRICK: A lot of older people that couldn't get out.


PATRICK: They just got trapped. They weren't able to signal the helicopters.

S. O'BRIEN: Back on land, Stanley delivers the bad news to a trooper and the trooper will pass this information on to the family that's waiting for any answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know, where they elderly, sir?


S. O'BRIEN: The truth is, Miles, nobody has any idea how many bodies will be found. And that's just one neighborhood. We have no concept of how many people got out, how many people are trapped inside -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Soledad.

Thank you very much.

That was a grim mission you went along on.

Still to come, we'll go live to the Astrodome in Houston. We'll look at how the thousands of evacuees there are trying to cope with an uncertain future.

Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: It's now been a week since hurricane Katrina -- as a matter of fact, right around this time a week ago we were talking to you about it as the storm came ashore on the Gulf Coast.

Search and rescue missions are still underway in New Orleans, but with each passing hour, that mission shifts more to one of recovery. Without these kinds of aerial shots, it would be hard to grasp the scope of the tragedy in New Orleans.

My next guests, two men who have been taking these pictures, helping rescue the stranded, helping us understand the story, J.T. Alpaugh and Alan Purwin from the Baton Rouge Airport there with a company called Helinet.

Gentlemen, you've got to be exhausted, for one thing, just constantly flying.

Welcome to our program.

And just overall, have you been able to sort of take it in and have a sense of what you've been seeing unfold before you?


We had -- we got a little bit of rest last night. But it is absolutely overwhelming. We had no idea when we came into this what we were going to be expecting out there and it is very heart wrenching, to say the least.

Usually we're a lot -- very isolated from these stories, but hurricane -- the aftermath of hurricane Katrina has really sucked us in and made a -- taken an emotional toll on everybody here. We...

M. O'BRIEN: Well, let's go to the videotape, as they say, J.T. As a matter of fact, you were on the air with us when we saw this the other day.

When you see people waving like that, the first thing you probably want to do is land and get them.

You can't always do that, can you?

ALPAUGH: No, we can't. We don't have the rescue equipment a lot of these rescue helicopters have. But what we have been doing is we have been dropping water and some rations and food down to them whenever we can. But it's very difficult for us to affect any types of rescues like you've been seeing the heroes out there in these helicopters with these hoist rescues. We don't have that equipment.

But we did do a low hover down to a rooftop yesterday and got some food and water. And how we're helping with these rescues. Even though we can't pull them up, we're using our camera system to zoom in and find them and give the coordinates to the rescue personnel in the aircraft to come in and get them.

M. O'BRIEN: That's great.

ALPAUGH: So we feel that -- yes, it's been quite an experience for us.

M. O'BRIEN: Now, look at this next shot here. Do you know roughly where in the city we are here as we pan across here? There you see -- that must be Interstate 10, which fortunately is elevated.

ALPAUGH: Yes, unfortunately, Miles...

M. O'BRIEN: Hmm?

ALPAUGH: Unfortunately, Miles, we cannot see the images that you're seeing right now. We're not set up with a monitor. But...

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you had a monitor there. I apologize.

What we're seeing here is a pan across and then a zoom into a front porch. There's a couple of dogs on the porch. And, you know, one of the things we haven't talked so much about is, you know, abandoned animals are a real problem, aren't they?

ALPAUGH: Yes. We're seeing those images now. Yes, and we've seen a lot of the abandoned animals out there and we were seeing some ASPCA and animal control people at one of the camps that we were landing at and where they were bringing dogs in.

But, yes, that's just another sad part of this story, the animals that were left behind.

But, again, we're sure -- we pointed the rescue workers to a lot of these people that have animals. And, in fact, we found a couple of guys on a roof yesterday that had a small dog with them and the rescuers let them take those in the baskets and take them with them. M. O'BRIEN: You know, I just want to point out and make sure everybody knows, all that there is water where there should be streets, as you go to that wide shot there. It's very, you know, it's just astounding when you consider all the water.

Let's go to the next shot.

Alan, this is a ladder.

And when you saw that ladder, what were you thinking, first of all?

ALAN PURWIN, HELINET PILOT: We were just -- we were hoping that the rescue aircraft would be able to get those guys out of -- from over on the other side of the ladder. There was other people in there...

M. O'BRIEN: All right, so let's -- to be clear, then, there was a rescue aircraft nearby.

He brings up the ladder to try to get this older person down, is that right?

ALPAUGH: Well, Miles, this ladder was actually put into place by these people here. They were using it as a bridge to bridge between a canal going through and what happened here. You see this was at an Asian Catholic church there. And you see a priest. And they were crossing the ladder and getting to an area that they could be hoisted out. They -- that was on a balcony. So that was actually put there by those people to maneuver around those rooftops.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow.

And look at that. You know, I've got to say, when you -- they have to take a ride on that thing right there. They have to grab onto that little thing and just hang on tight. That's got to be quite a ride.

ALPAUGH: Yes. I see your little circle there.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

ALPAUGH: That is a rescue seat.

M. O'BRIEN: Whoa!

ALPAUGH: And they've got -- they all sit on there and you can see they kind of straddle that and hold on. And sometimes when you see a little bit of a spin like that, the helicopter pilot -- and Alan can tell you about this -- can do a little maneuver to stop that spin. But the spin is actually...

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, really?

ALPAUGH: Yes, absolutely. It starts to spin pretty quickly and you'll see the rescue workers put their feet down right there and try to stop that spin as they get them in.

But we've seen all sorts of devices like this for rescue. We've seen the rescue callers and the vest. We've seen litter baskets and we've seen this device. And this is actually the first time that I've seen this device.

M. O'BRIEN: It looks like an anchor or something.

Let's look at this next one here. Now here you're seeing some -- we're seeing some, obviously there is some water there and that sort of stuff being dropped down. And this was obviously key. This is the kind of thing that, you know, until we get to you, you want to make sure everybody is safe.

And look at these people in the water there. That looks precarious as it can be. But obviously in need of those supplies.

Did you see a lot of evidence of air drops of this kind of thing?

ALPAUGH: Yes, we did see this. There are specifically Black Hawks that were designated. Their mission was to carry a lot of this. Most of the Black Hawks are doing rescue operations, but there are some -- there you see these boxes. Boxes here were actually the boxes that we threw down to this gentleman out of our aircraft. And Alan was getting low enough to get the rotor wash to blow. You can see the waves that the water is making.

Alan use the rotor wash to blow some of that water so that it would push those boxes toward those people so they wouldn't have to wade any further into that water.

And let me say, again, that water is just not plain water.


ALPAUGH: That water is full of sewage.

M. O'BRIEN: No, it's...

ALPAUGH: Full of gasoline. It's awful.

M. O'BRIEN: It's a good thing we can't smell it.

Alan, a final thought here.

Your business has kind of borne out of Hollywood, you know, to shoot movies and so forth. This must give you a whole new perspective on that sort of business.

PURWIN: Well, it's just -- I've never seen anything like it before in my life. I've been flying since I was 18 years old professionally and flying news in L.A. for in excess of 10,000 hours. And, you know, we -- J.T. and I have been together through earthquakes, floods, fires, major airplane disasters and endless events. And nothing comes close to what we've witnessed over the last seven days. It's beyond heartbreaking. And I don't even know how to quantify it and put it in perspective right now, because it's so broad, it's so widespread and there's so much devastation that's out there that I don't think the government really knows about right now, because it is so -- it's so vast, this affected area.

M. O'BRIEN: Gentlemen, thanks for the good work.

Thanks for helping us understand this story a little better.

ALPAUGH: Good morning, Miles.

PURWIN: Thank you.

ALPAUGH: Miles, thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, J.T. Alpaugh and Alan Purwin are with Helinet. And they have been over New Orleans, primarily, but also all throughout the region, all this past week.

We'll have more on the situation along the Gulf Coast in just a moment.

We'll also take you live to the White House for a big story there. President Bush has nominated Judge John Roberts now as the chief justice of the United States. The latest on that is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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