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Supreme Court Nomination of Alito

Aired October 31, 2005 - 10:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Newsmakers. John Roberts making his photo graphic debut as they do the Supreme Court class photo every single year.
Before we wrap up for the day, let's get right back to Miles in New Orleans.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Soledad, thanks very much.

We are pretty much out of time here. We're at the Walgreens. Take a look inside. They've been working here for about a week and a half now. They say it will be a couple of months before they're back open here. Just one shop, one sign of the recovery here in the city of New Orleans. The big story today, of course, is Supreme Court nominee. Up next, Wolf Blitzer and THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 a.m. in Washington and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM for our breaking news coverage of the president's new Supreme Court pick.

Happening now, the early rush of reaction to the new nominee, the Circuit Court Judge Samuel Alito. With the White House in turmoil, is the third time the charm for Mr. Bush's efforts to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In the minds of many conserves, Alito is no Harriet Miers, but can he rally bipartisan support like John Roberts. We'll hear from both sides this hour.

And an attempt to change the subject. The high court drama can't entirely wipe the CIA leak indictment off the radar. We'll have the latest on the case, the players and what happens next.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It happened just two hours ago. President Bush wasting no time in trying to get back on track after last week's double whammy. Harriet Miers' withdrawal as his Supreme Court nominee and the CIA leak indictment of Lewis Scooter Libby. His new choice for the high court, the veteran Judge Samuel Alito. He's getting rave reviews from conservatives who helped to dash Miers nomination. But many Democrats, many liberals seem ready to fight the president on this one.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Impressed by Judge Alito's distinguished record, his measured judicial temperament and his tremendous personal integrity. And I urge the Senate to act promptly on this important nomination so that an up or down vote is held before the end of this year.


BLITZER: The president making the announcement over at the White House just about two hours ago. Let's go up to Capitol Hill right now to get some early reaction to this nomination.

What are they saying, Ed Henry?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the contrast is striking. Republican skeptics of Harriet Miers, like Sam Brownback, already applauding this nomination, congratulating Judge Alito. Some very warm words right out of the box.

Whereas Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, somebody who was practically falling all over himself to say nice things about Harriet Miers, the first day that she was nominated, now expressing disappointment immediately about this nomination. Also suggesting that he believes there was not enough consultation from the president. Also playing the gender card, suggesting a woman should have been picked here. Also suggesting that perhaps this nominee is out of the mainstream.

You can see the battle lines already being drawn. Basically a titanic, ideological battle ahead on all of the major social issues like abortion and affirmative action. Democrats perhaps laying the groundwork for a filibuster. Suggesting already privately that there are extraordinary circumstances here. The magic words dating back to that gang of 14 moderates who prevented a filibuster showdown some months ago.

We heard from Senator Edward Kennedy, a key Democrat on judiciary, that he believes Judge Alito was picked because he will "stop the massive hemorrhaging of support on the president's right wing." But the bottom line, that may sound like ominous rhetoric from the left, but that's music to the ears of conservatives up here. They want to see the president battling with Ted Kennedy, not battling with the Republicans like Sam Brownback.

Republicans up here also circulating 1990 statements by various Democratic senators when Judge Alito was up for an appellate judgeship. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, for example, saying at the time in 1990 that he believes Mr. Alito "has the experience and skills to be the kind of judge the public deserves, impartial, thoughtful and fair." Republicans could not agree more, although Democrats now saying that he has a paper trail since 1990 that suggests he is hard right and they may oppose him right out of the box.


BLITZER: Ed, we heard the president say this morning he's hoping for an up and down vote for Judge Alito before the end of this year. Given the nature of Congress, the nature of this debate, is that realistic?

HENRY: I think it would be extremely tough to get a straight up or down vote by the end of the year. Just by the simple mathematics here, just by the clock running out, all the other issues Congress has to deal with, but also, in your question, suggesting a political battle ahead. And clearly Democrats not eager to promise that he will get an up or down vote.

Democrats still cackling about the fact that they believe Republicans are the ones who prevented an up or down vote on Harriet Miers. And you're going to hear a lot of charges of hypocrisy. That Republicans were not pushing for an up or down vote on her.

But to answer your question quickly, it's very unlikely they'll have an up or down vote by the end of the year.


BLITZER: All right, stand by, Ed. I want to get back to you.

I want to get some more analysis on what this means. Candy Crowley and John King are joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Candy, first to you.

It looks like it's going to be a huge battle this time. The conservatives, many of them who opposed Harriet Miers, they're going to be onboard as far as this nomination is concerned. Well, what about the Democrats, what about the liberals and what about those moderate Republicans who fear there could be an overturn of Roe versus Wade?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think probably it was interesting listening to Bill Schneider talk about the polls. What you have here and what the president emphasized throughout his entire introduction to Judge Alito was his credentials. It is going to be very difficult for Democrats to challenge that this is not a man that's qualified for the court.

When you look at the poll numbers and the American people say, you know, what do you most look for? It's not a woman. It's not conservative or Democrat. It's like, we want someone who's qualified.

So the president certainly has that going for him. Interesting that we're about to start on a political year when the Democrats need to please their base who will no doubt be opposed to this man, and the Republicans need to play to theirs. So it will be, I think, quite a battle. I'm not sure when push comes to shove there will be a filibuster because I think the credentials make that difficult, but that's clearly a democratic call and they are weeks from making that call.

BLITZER: What about that, John? The whole notion of a filibuster is still hovering very much over this nomination.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy and I were just talking about that, Wolf, before the show started. And I think it will be very hard, because of this man's history, because of his time on the bench, because he has been confirmed twice by the United States Senate, it will be very hard, I think, for Democrats to sustain a filibuster. Does that mean they won't threaten one? No. They certainly might because of the politics Candy was just discussing.

I think, obviously, the reporting to be done today is to go back to the group of 14. But I think you see in that group, Senator Lieberman, for one, and Senator Pryor of Arkansas, another. They have said they do not want to filibuster any nominee because this gentleman has been confirmed twice. Because he has been on the bench. I don't think there is any question about his credentials to be on the court.

The fight will be about his record, his ideology, his positions on certain issues. But the standard they laid out back when they made their big announcement about the group of 14 threshold, it would appear that Judge Alito meets the standard. The question is, given the politics at the moment, will the standard shift?

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by for a moment. I want to play for our viewers an excerpt of what Judge Alito said earlier today after the president made his nomination.


SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: The Supreme Court is an institution that I have long held in reverence. During my 29 years as public servant, I've had the opportunity to view the Supreme Court from a variety of perspectives. As an attorney in the solicitor general's office arguing and briefing cases before the Supreme Court, as a federal prosecutor and, most recently, for the last 15 years, as a judge of the court of appeals. During all of that time, my appreciation of the vital role that the Supreme Court plays in our constitutional system has greatly deepened.


BLITZER: Samuel Alito, the circuit court of appeals judge who was nominated earlier today, a couple of hours ago, by the president to replace Sandra Day O'Connor.

Let's get back to that issue of an up and down vote. And, John, I'll start with you this time. In the Senate, either late this year, next year, after these hearings go forward, 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, one independent who often votes with the Democrats. So let's say 55-45. If you need an up and down vote, 51 votes to confirm, it's going to mean that all the Republicans basically, almost all of them, are fully onboard. There are several members of the Republican Party in the Senate, John, who support abortion rights for women.

KING: There are, but they have also, as the president has said, they also say that that should not be a single issue litmus test for a Supreme Court pick or for any pick for the federal bench. But I think you hit the nail on the head in that the argument in the next several days and weeks will be focused, I think, not exclusively but a great deal on the issue of abortion. A, because of Judge Alito's record on the bench. Those who favor abortion rights says he has a record that makes them quite frightened.

And, b, and as you pan across here, you see the picture right there, Sandra Day O'Connor. Judge Alito would replace Sandra Day O'Connor. She is the swing vote on many issues, including abortion. And many will say, because she is stepping aside, because this is a vacancy for a swing seat, that the president should send up another moderate swing justice. Mr. Bush, of course, disputes that argument. But because of who Judge Alito is replacing on the court, and because of his record on the abortion issue, I think that will be the defining battle, at least from the outset.

BLITZER: And these are pictures that we've been showing our viewers, Candy, of the new class photo, as it's called, of the Supreme Court. The chief justice sitting in the front right there. The Chief Justice John Roberts. There it is, the new video just coming in from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just as there are some Republican moderates who support abortion rights for women, Candy Crowley, there were some conservative Democrats who may go along with the president. So a party line vote, 55-45, is by no means necessarily certain in this kind of potentially controversial up and down role call.

CROWLEY: Right. Because the flip side of the coin that John was just showing you is, you have people like Joe Lieberman. You have people in red states that are coming up for reelection. Coming in November of next year. So there are plenty of those Democrats out there, or at least enough to get him over the hump and to outweigh Republicans, should they choose to vote against it.

So it's not clear exactly how this is going to divvy up. And I think it will settle into something over the next couple of days. But we're not going to know, really, until we get to those hearings, until we hear really not just what the nominee has to say, but how the senators question them. Then we'll get a better idea of how this is going to fall.

But there are enough red state senators, that is senators from Republican states who are Democrats, that are up for reelection. That they will take a long, hard look at this and whether or not they want to oppose it.

BLITZER: Only the start of what could be some excitement here in Washington, to put it mildly.

Guys, stand by for a moment. We're going to take a quick break.

Coming up, much more of our special coverage on this special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. Briefs and opinions on Judge Alito. We'll hear from a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, he's standing by as well.

Also, the next phase of the CIA leak saga after the indictment of Lewis Scooter Libby. Are any more surprises in store in the coming days.

And a civil rights legend honored in the U.S. Capitol. Top officials and people of all stripes turning out to remember Rosa Parks. You're looking at live pictures right now. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're watching what's happening. The reaction pouring in to the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. We're watching that story. Let's bring some let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin. He's watching it with us.

Reaction so far, I would say predictable. This is a controversial nomination, especially if you're a Democrat or a liberal.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, but he has one big advantage that Harriet Miers didn't, which was close to central casting background for what many people expect the Supreme Court justice. The credentials issue will cut very much in his favor. Princeton undergrad, Yale Law School, assistant to the solicitor general, 12 arguments before the United States Supreme Court, chief federal prosecutor in New Jersey, 15 years as an appellate court judge. The qualifications issue is completely off the table as far as the Democrats are concerned, I think.

BLITZER: Because he was unanimously confirmed 15 years ago when he was nominated to the court.

TOOBIN: Yes, that's right, but here's where things, I think, cut, perhaps, in the other direction. Since he's been on the court, he has been a very outspoken conservative voice, and that's where you're going to start to see objections. And one case in particular, I spent my morning reading it and I think a lot of people are going to be reading it. 1991 Casey against Planned Parenthood. Pennsylvania passed a law that said women, if they married women who wanted to get an abortion had to discuss it first with their husbands.

Judge Alito wrote an opinion saying he thought that was an appropriate restriction. The United States Supreme Court overturned that decision and I think a lot of people will look to that decision as a proxy, as a symbol, as a hint of how Judge Alito feels about Roe v. Wade. And conservatives will be pleased. Liberals will be very distressed, I think.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, Jeff. Our White House Correspondent Dana Bash is over on the north lawn of the White House watching all of this.

Dana, you're speaking. You're getting information from top officials. What are you picking up on the nomination this morning?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just came from the morning gaggle with the press secretary who was essentially confirming what we were talking about early this morning, which is that the president actually had Samuel Alito in mind pretty much as soon as Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination. It was clear that he was going to be next up. In fact, earlier we were told that he had been among those on the short list who was first interviewed when Sandra Day O'Connor first announced her retirement over the summer.

And what we are told in terms of the way this particular nomination went down now is that last Thursday and Friday, right after Harriet Miers withdrew, Andy Card, the white house chief of staff, spoke by phone with Alito two or three times to sort of give him the head's up that this was coming. And then the president himself spoke with him on Friday at 12:40 p.m. But it wasn't actually until this morning here at the White House in the Oval Office that Mr. Bush formally offered Alito the nomination and it was then that his family came in and then, of course, we saw what happened from there with the announcement.

And one thing I should sort of note about the timing of this, which is interesting given what the White House is trying to do today. Today, of course, what they are trying to do is reset the stage and reset the debate over what had been talked about last week, which is indictments and political debacle and the withdrawal of Harriet Miers. 12:40 p.m. was about the time that the indictment of Scooter Libby, the now former vice presidential chief of staff, was coming down. And it was at that time that the president was making his first call to Samuel Alito, making it pretty clear that he was going to be the next nominee.

BLITZER: And we're standing by Dana, and to our viewers, I want to just point this out. We're standing by to hear directly from the top Republican leadership in the Senate. They're going to be receiving Judge Alito momentarily. We'll show you those pictures as soon as they begin.

The Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, the whip, Mitch McConnell among others. They'll be walking through hat door. You're looking at that live picture with Samuel Alito to continue, at least in these early hours, some of the events surrounding this nomination of Samuel Alito to serve as the successor, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, to Sandra Day O'Connor.

Dana Bash, were there questions to the White House press secretary this morning about the fact that the president decided to go for a man as opposed to a woman?

BASH: Funny you should ask that. That was actually one of my questions. And the answer was that it was actually what you can imagine the answer to be, Wolf, and that is, that the president picked the person whom he believed was most qualified.

Actually, the press secretary pushed back a little bit on the notion that perhaps the White House was interested, when picking Harriet Miers, in replacing a woman with a woman, despite the fact that their talking points out of the gate was that she was a trailblazer because she was a woman. But the answer this morning is that the president picked somebody who he believes is the most qualified and they're trying to make the case that the president actually clicked with Alito right from the beginning when he first started this process.

Look, he is somebody, as we've been talking about all morning, who has been at the top of the conservatives list, as somebody who is a person with the experience and with the judicial philosophy that they wanted. He's been somebody that's been vetted here at the White House since 2001, four-plus years ago when the president first came into office. That's when he had this potential opening, he was somebody who was going to be considered among the first.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you very much. Dana Bash over at the White House watching all of this.

We're going to continue to monitor this story. Is he a conservative darling? Is he a liberal's nightmare? We'll get reaction to Judge Samuel Alito's nomination. It's fueling emotions online. We'll check that situation.

Also, the late Rosa Parks, honored in a way she never would have dreamed of when she refused to give up her seat on a bus a half century ago. We'll go there live. Her body lying in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

Let's check out the markets. At this point, as well, the Dow Jones Industrials, take a look at that. The Dow Jones Industrials up about 55 point, 56 now. We're watching the markets.

We're watching all the news on this special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay with us.


BLITZER: This is a live picture you're seeing from the U.S. Capitol Hill. We expect momentarily, momentarily, the new nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, to be walking in, accompanied by the top Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate, including the majority lead, Bill Frist. We'll show you that. We'll hear from them as soon as they walk through that door.

Also, elsewhere on Capitol Hill. These are live pictures you're seeing right now. The civil rights trailblazer, Rosa Parks. Her body has been lying in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. It's going to be moved shortly. For a moment, let's listen in to some of the tributes pouring in. This musical tribute.


BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to watch this tribute to Rosa Parks, 92 years old. She died last week. We'll watch that.

We're watching the reaction pouring in to the nomination of Samuel Alito as well.

Let's get some reaction from a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Jeff Sessions is join us now live. Senator Sessions, I assume you're very happy about this.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, (R) ALABAMA: I think Judge Alito is a really fine nominee. We'll be looking, everybody will, at his record and background. But I knew him when we were United States attorneys together. He served in the Department of Justice and then went back to his home state of New Jersey to be the chief federal prosecutor for that very large state and did a great job, and then was later unanimously confirmed to the third circuit court of appeals where he sits today. BLITZER: So as far as conservatives are concerned, the opposition that we saw to Harriet Miers, you don't envisage anything along those lines to Judge Alito. Pretty much everyone on the conservative side of the aisle is going to be onboard.

SESSIONS: Well, certainly the complaints that were made are concerns raised that she didn't have experience or not there. I mean, he, as an assistant United States attorney in New Jersey, handled the appeals to the circuit court. So he wrote appellate briefs. Then he went on to the solicitor general's office of the United States Department of Justice where he argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court, then was the office of legal council, then went back there and has had 15 years on the federal bench. So he has an extraordinary record. That means that there will be an opportunity to dig into it and find something you don't like.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Sessions, stand by for a moment. Your leadership, the Republican leadership, including Senator Frist, the majority leader, are now at this photo opportunity with Judge Alito on Capitol Hill. Let's listen in.


U.S. SENATOR BILL FRIST (R-TN), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: ... over the next several days and next several weeks as we work up to an up- or-down vote for this outstanding nominee; a nominee that the president has named; that, over a period of the next several weeks, we will gather the papers for, have hearings, and then move toward that up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate.

The judge and I will have the same alma mater in going to Princeton. So very quickly people started sending me e-mails this morning. And interesting, one of the e-mails came from about the Nassau Herald in 1972. The judge and I talked about it over the course of the morning. And the Nassau Herald is the annual yearbook.

And in that -- he's probably forgotten -- in that yearbook it says the last two sentences: "Sam intends to go to law school and eventually warm a seat on the Supreme Court."

I haven't talked to Sam.

You don't have to comment on that. But again, let me formally welcome you to the United States Senate. Thank you.


FRIST: Sam, why don't you comment? Then we'll be happy to open up with my colleagues.

ALITO: Well, that was a college joke. I think my real ambition at the time was to be the commissioner of baseball, and (inaudible). Of course, I never dreamed that this day would actually arrive.

As I said earlier this morning, I am tremendously honored by the nomination.

I've spent almost my entire professional career looking up to the Supreme Court in one way or another: when I was a young lawyer in the Solicitor General's Office arguing cases before the Supreme Court, when I was a federal prosecutor attempting to comply with the Supreme Court decisions in the area of criminal procedure, and then during my years on the court of appeals, trying to understanding and interpret and apply Supreme Court precedents as faithfully as I could.

And so this is a culmination of that whole process for me, a tremendous honor. And I really look forward to working with the Senate during the confirmation process.

FRIST: Thank you very much.

Let me turn to Senator McConnell and the chairman and the president pro tem.

U.S. SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Judge, let me welcome you as well to the Senate. What we guarantee you is a dignified process here, a respectful hearing, and at the end of that process an up-or- down vote, as has always been the case on Supreme Court nominees throughout the history of the Senate.

Again, welcome.

ALITO: Thank you.

FRIST: Mr. Chairman?

SPECTER: I've known Judge Alito for the better part of two decades. He sits on the Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which includes my state, Pennsylvania. He brings to this nomination a very distinguished record: was in the Solicitor General's Office, was U.S. attorney for New Jersey. He has been on the federal bench now for 15 years.

We are in the process of assembling his opinions. It is estimated that he has been involved in about 3,500 cases and has some 300 opinions which he has written, so that we have a very good idea as to his approach to jurisprudence.

And I'll be sitting down with him when this meeting ends. And I know that he'll be talking to members of the committee and senators generally. And I've already put in the call to Senator Leahy, so that we can talk about the process and start off on a foot of coordinated activities between Democrats and Republicans to try to move along as promptly as possible, given the very heavy burden of paperwork which we know awaits us.

FRIST: President Pro Tem?

U.S. SENATOR TED STEVENS (R-AK): Well, I'm happy to meet the judge. I noted that he was confirmed unanimously by voice vote when he went to the court of appeals.

Well, I think we ought to keep in mind the best interests of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She has indicated she wants to retire. She stayed on as a courtesy at -- the whole (ph) process now. And I'm hopeful we can get the judge confirmed so that he will be there when the January term starts, at the very latest.

But it's going to be an interesting series of hearings you're going to hold, Arlen. We look forward to those. It's a lot of paperwork.

FRIST: Judge, again, we want to welcome you to the United States Senate.

I had the chance to meet with your family today. You have two lovely children. And I know they're mighty proud of you -- and your wife, Martha.

The process -- we're committing to being fair and civil and dignified. And our pledge to you, on behalf of the United States Senate, is to accomplish that, and to do it as soon as possible.

The big question, I know, that most of the media has, and I'm sure you have, and our colleagues will have over the course of the day, is the timing. And at this juncture, until I have a chance to consult with Senator Reid and the chairman -- as the chairman mentioned the ranking member -- we don't know exactly what that course will be.

In part, it depends on the provision of paperwork that needs to come over as well as initial review of the documents that reflect your work of the last 15 years and before that.

So, Judge, again, thank you very much. It's an honor to have you here.

FRIST: And with that, I think we can take a few questions if people would like.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about your position on abortion and some of the rulings that the judge has made and how that might come into conflict in approving in the hearings?

SPECTER: I'm not at all concerned about my position on a woman's right to choose. (LAUGHTER)

I will be interested in Judge Alito's views on following precedents. He said in the very brief statement that he has worked hard to follow the precedents of the Supreme Court.

And there is a lot more to the issue of a woman's right to choose than how you may feel about it personally. We have a long tradition in the court, we have the principles and stare decisis and super- precedents and super-duper-precedents.

And you may be sure that that will be among the first items that Judge Alito and I will discuss, although I'm not going to ask him how he's going to rule on any case. Judicial independence mandates that that not be a question put to a prospective nominee.

But within the range of fairness, the Judiciary Committee, you can be assured, will give Judge Alito's nomination a very, very thorough review.

QUESTION: Senators, what do you make of the immediate negative reaction of Democrats to Judge Alito's nomination?

SPECTER: An immediate negative reaction? Well, this is Washington, D.C.


QUESTION: How much of a fight do you really expect on this? Senator Reid seemed disappointed on this.

FRIST: Yes, let me just say: There's going to be a lot of positioning from a political standpoint. And I think you've seen it. And it's from some expected voices on -- I'll say both sides of the aisle.

FRIST: As leadership, we're going to plow through that and we're going to stay above it.

And it's going to be tough. People know the climate here in Washington right now is very partisan.

We're going to do our very best to carry out and fulfill a responsibility that I was just talking to the judge's family about, talking to his children about: a process that is among the most, if not the most, important responsibility we have given to us by the Constitution, of advice and consent and confirmation of these judicial nominees.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR: As we listen to Senator Frist, the Senate Republican leader and the majority leader, this other image that we're seeing, a very dramatic image. This is a live picture on Capitol Hill from the rotunda. The casket carrying Rosa Parks, the civil rights trailblazer whose body has been lying in honor in Capitol -- in the Capitol Rotunda, is now being moved, 92 years old. She died last week. Let's listen in a little bit as this moving tribute to Rosa Parks continues in the nation's Capitol.

Rosa Parks, a civil rights leader who refused to give up a seat on the bus.


BLITZER: Rosa Parks' casket -- Rosa Parks' casket being moved now from Capitol Hill to AME -- Memorial AME Church in Washington. You've been hearing the Howard University choir.

We're still talking with Senator Jeff -- excuse me, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Montgomery, Alabama, the scene when all of that took place. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, is joining us, as well.

I want both of your reaction. Jesse Jackson, as you see this tribute to Rosa Parks unfold, what goes through your mind?

JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Well, that the context of this is that the 58 years of violent, legal segregation, full of lynchings and the like. We won the 54th Supreme Court decision to make segregation illegal, but it didn't -- the states defied the Supreme Court ruling. And she defied the state, and she was arrested because she defied state's rights.

She was not just, quote unquote, a seamstress. She was a civil rights fighter. She joined the NAACP in 1943 at a time that it was -- it was banned. And so hers was a huge role, because it put a face on testing the new Supreme Court ruling.

Dr. King emerged five days later and she set lest a season of tests. The next one, of course, was Little Rock Arkansas, the Little Rock Nine. And then the sit-ins. It took 10 years to get from the back of the bus to the right to vote. And so she set off a huge concatenation of events that changed the course of our country. I might add, those changes are not of that time (ph).

BLITZER: Senator Sessions, it was 50 years ago, December 1955 in your home state of Montgomery, Alabama, where this woman refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus, and we know what unfolded as a result of that. Give us your thoughts as you see this tribute to Rosa Parks 50 years later.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I just left the capitol to pay tribute there, and it was a tremendous historical event, one individual refusing to move to the back of the bus spoke loudly and eloquently and with authority, really.

It kicked off a process involving Dr. Martin Luther King, who is a young minister there in Dexter Avenue Baptist Church; Fred Gray, her attorney, ending up with Thurgood Marshall arguing the case before the U.S. Supreme Court that said, and I don't think this is an activist ruling. The Supreme Court simply said that equal protection of the laws means that one person should not go to the back of the bus simply because of the color of their skin.

So it was a huge thing in the '50s for this to occur. She's rightly called a mother in the civil rights movement and she is rightly, it has been said, sparked the civil rights movement in a way that I think is historic.

So I think it very worthy that she be recognized. Montgomery now has a museum to her with an interactive bus at the spot she was arrested. Troy State University has, and we -- I was pleased to cosponsor the resolution to give her the congressional gold medal several years ago.

BLITZER: Reverend Jackson, you've called her a noble princess from God, Rosa Parks. Explain a little bit more why you use those beautiful words.

JACKSON: Well, she had these angelic qualities, and that was no blemish in her character. So when she was immediately attacked, they could find no harm and no fault in her character.

She was testing the legal, racist supremacist laws of the state, and, of course, it triggered the test that she passed. I would hope that now that Senator Sessions and I can agree that she deserves a statue in the great hall that -- in the Congress, and make it a more permanent memorial helping to turn America's tide.

And I would hope that during the same season to honor her 50 years later, her unfinished business, that we can get our Voting Rights Act extended with protections and get a White House conference on civil rights. Fifty years later it's time to have a good solid White House council on civil rights, extend the Voting Rights Act and put a permanent statue to Rosa Parks in the great hall of Congress.

BLITZER: Let's get Senate Sessions' reaction to both of those recommendations from the Reverend Jackson -- Senator Sessions.

SESSIONS: Well, I think no doubt we're going to extend the Voting Rights Act. And the Voting Rights Act really fundamentally changed so much of what occurred in the South. People were surreptitiously and systematically, in some cases just blatantly, denied the right to vote in the South. That has been eliminated, of course, by the Voting Rights Act. It will be extended.

And I certainly -- certainly believe that Rosa Parks, with her grace and dignity and integrity, deserves tremendous recognition for all she did to change the South and the nation for the better.

BLITZER: Reverend Jackson, as you take a look at these dramatic pictures, this incredible honor, this tribute to Rosa Parks, well deserved across the board. Everyone now recognizes what she did 50 years ago was so heroic and so powerful and set in motion all the dramatic changes we've seen in the country over this half century.

We also see a decisive moment in the U.S. Supreme Court about to be played out in Washington. I wonder if you want to share your immediate reaction to the president's recommendation that Judge Samuel Alito is going to be the successor. He wants Samuel Alito to be the successor to Sandra Day O'Connor.

JACKSON: Well, while her legacy is secure, her struggle remains unfinished. She was arrested defying state's rights, and Mr. Alito is another state's rights judge. And we want a Supreme Court that has a supreme view of America and state's rights has fundamentally meant anti-civil rights, anti-labor, anti-gender equality. And so that tension between federal protection for all of us and states rights for some of us, that struggle continues.

BLITZER: Also joining us now is Congressman John Lewis, himself a pioneer, a trailblazer in the civil rights movement. Powerful images, Congressman Lewis. And one of those powerful images that we're seeing right now is you standing next to Senator Sessions himself, two sons of the South who are very much involved in politics today.

First of all, your thoughts about Rosa Parks, Congressman Lewis.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: Well, we're not just two sons of the South. We are both natives of the state of Alabama. And it is -- to stand here with Senator Sessions and to remember Rosa Parks, this one woman who did so much to help liberate not just the American South, but help liberate our country.

In 1955, I was only 15 years old, in the tenth grade, growing up about 50 miles from Montgomery, and I followed the drama of Montgomery. Rosa Parks inspired me. By sitting down, she inspired many of us to stand up. She inspired us to sit in at lunch counters, to stand in at theaters, to kneel in churches, to march for the right to vote.

I think this is so fitting and so appropriate for the country to pause and pay tribute to this one woman who committed a simple act of courage.

BLITZER: Senator Sessions, you want to follow up on that?

SESSIONS: Well, John Lewis is one of America's great citizens, and we're proud that he came from Alabama. And I think it is important for people to remember that there are many, many people like John Lewis and even I, a little bit younger, who were part of and lived during the days when there were absolute strict legal segregation and discrimination in the South, and to have lived through that change is a major, major thing.

And her character, her non-violent strength and power, really kicked off the movement in a way that allowed it to be so effective and yet to engender a lot less violence than many people would ever have thought possible.

BLITZER: Reverend Jackson, I know you want to weigh in, as well. Go ahead, Reverend Jackson.

JACKSON: Another thing about their standing together is that she freed up blacks and whites, because based upon the law, that white man had the right to demand that seat. The bus driver had the obligation to tell her to get up. The police had the obligation to arrest her. They were all trapped by unjust laws.

I'm sure that the rider, the driver and the police now are ashamed of their history. They were put in a predicament.

So her victory (ph) freed white and black. So when Auburn plays Alabama in a football game now, and you can choose uniform color and not skin colors as the basis for your choice, she freed white and black.

And to that extent she had a sense of future by her resolve. I remember asking her one day, John -- we may have been together -- I said, "Mrs. Parks why didn't you go to the back of the bus? I mean, three other women did, and you knew you were going to face job loss, jail or death."

She, "I thought about Emmett Till, and I couldn't go back."

She had the silent sense of courage and kind of nonnegotiable dignity, but she freed -- in many ways, she freed the whole South.

BLITZER: All right. Let me tell our viewers what we're seeing. The motorcade now leaving Capitol Hill, heading towards they Metropolitan AME Church here in Washington. You see some buses in those motorcades, including one bus from Montgomery, Alabama, representing the bus in which she sat 50 years ago and which -- in which she refused to give up her seat to a white man, beginning this chain of events that has resulted in all these dramatic changes over the years in this country.

Senator Sessions, Congressman Lewis, Reverend Jackson, stand by. Our Carlos Watson is with us, as well, watching all of this.

Carlos, give us your thoughts.

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I certainly would add to what Reverend Jackson and Congressman Lewis and Senator Sessions said, maybe I would also note that at the time she was 42 years old. And so it's a reminder that often the most prominent activists, the ones who really changed the tide aren't just young ones, aren't just college students but in fact are people who, as Reverend Jackson said, had a real risk in terms of job loss and family security, et cetera.

BLITZER: How powerful, Carlos, was she, to you personally, as a kid growing -- you grew up in Florida? You obviously are so much younger, and you grew up in the aftermath of the start -- really, the start of the civil rights movement. But you were, I'm sure, deeply affected by what she did.

WATSON: Very much. I remember, Wolf, when I won a scholarship, a chance to go to Harvard, and I remember my mom pulling me aside and saying, "You're not the first student in our family to have straight A's. You're just the first to get a chance to do it."

And my mom being an example of someone whose life was changed dramatically by Rosa Parks and Reverend Jackson and Congressman Lewis and others, was an honors graduate in 1952. Couldn't find a teaching job, headed to the South, in fact, headed to Alabama and was turned back around, couldn't get a job there. It took another three years before she ultimately found a job. Shortly after, by the way, Rosa Parks sat down and in many ways stood up.

BLITZER: Carlos, stand by.

I want to show our viewers that bus from Montgomery, Alabama, that is in this motorcade that is taking Rosa Parks' casket from the Capitol Hill over to Metropolitan AME Church here in Washington for more tribute, more honor, well deserved, as we all know.

Senator Sessions, you're going to see this bus coming into the picture. There it is from Montgomery, Alabama. You obviously are familiar with this sight. The talk -- this is a Washington D.C. Metropolitan bus that we just saw, but there is a bus there from Montgomery, Alabama.

Senator Sessions, go ahead.

SESSIONS: Well, Congressman -- Senator Levin from Michigan was telling me that they have the real bus, the actual bus, and it's been refitted for a museum in Michigan. Alabama has a -- has an interactive bus in a museum there in Montgomery that young people can come and participate in, with an entire museum around it, to remember this historic moment.

It was just the way it was. The South was segregated, as John notes. He lived with it. He had a passion to change it, and that's the way it was. And this kicked off the movement that changed that.

LEWIS: You know, so many people have called Rosa Parks the mother of the modern-day civil rights movement. And that is true, but she was more than a mother to the modern day civil rights movement. She must be looked upon as one of the mothers, one of the new founders, of the new South, the new America.

Jesse and Senator Sessions were right. She helped liberate all of us, black and white, liberate America. And we're better people. Our country is a better country because of this courage on the part of Rosa Parks. It was dangerous just to take a seat on a bus and be asked to leave and not get up. It was very dangerous.

BLITZER: When you say it was dangerous. A lot of our viewers weren't even born in 1955 and you were a young boy at the time, John Lewis. Remind our viewers why it was physically dangerous, it was so courageous for this woman in her 40s, at that time, to take that stand.

LEWIS: Well, to say no to segregation, to say no to racial discrimination in the South in 1955. Look, Emmett Till had been murdered just a few months earlier. There was so much fear, so much hate, and we couldn't eat together at a lunch counter in a restaurant. Blacks and whites couldn't ride in the same taxi cab.

So you would get an out of place. You would get in the way. Rosa Parks got out of place. She got in the way, and she inspired the rest of us to get out of place and get in the way. That's what we did.

BLITZER: All right. We're out of time for this segment, but I'll let Reverend Jackson just button it up for us. Reverend Jackson, go ahead.

JACKSON: Let me say that the context of this was in '54 we won the decision. We changed the law. She tested the new law, and 13 months later she won her legal case and then the case in Little Rock and then in Greensborough and then in Selma.

So right now we're seeking her legacy of continued protection under the law. I hope those who are so embracing of state's rights today that they would embrace the vision of Rosa Parks, which was a "one big tent America," where all of us could be under one big tent and none would be afraid.

BLITZER: Reverend Jackson, thanks very much. Congressman Lewis, thanks to you as well. Senator Sessions. We'll continue this conversation down the road. Lots to talk about. I want to thank all of you. Carlos Watson is going to continue to stay with us.

We're watching several important stories, including this tribute to Rosa Parks. The president of the United States has nominated Judge Samuel Alito to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor. We're watching that story. There's continued fallout from the CIA leak indictment. Much more of our coverage in this special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.


BLITZER: It's 11 a.m. here on the East Coast, and we're continuing our special coverage. Several important events unfolding here in Washington, including -- including the nomination of the new justice, potentially, to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. Much more on that coming up.



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