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Health Care Overhaul On Trial; Health Care Divide; Differing Accounts Of Trayvon Martin Killing; Zimmerman's Account Of Killing; Health Care on Trial; Aftershocks of Florida Teen Shooting

Aired March 27, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 6 a.m. in the east so let's get started here.

BANFIELD: Hundreds of protesters demonstrating outside the Supreme Court while the battle unfolds inside over the constitutionality of President Obama's health care reforms, and just about four hours, we could be witnessing the defining moment of this historic debate.

SAMBOLIN: And we're learning more about what may have happened the night 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. A leaked police report claims Martin as an aggressor. Zimmerman claims he was attacked and beaten and witnesses now backed him up.

BANFIELD: Happening now, one victim so far in a deadly wildfire in Colorado, at least a handful of homes burned to the ground in Jefferson County. Evacuations ordered for nearly 1,000 homes in that area.

SAMBOLIN: NASA launches five rockets simultaneously off of the coast of Virginia. Look at that. The rockers created a milky white cloud that is visible in clear skies from South Carolina to New England. Scientists are using it to study the jet stream.

BANFIELD: President Obama caught in an awkward, open mic moment during what he thought was a private conversation with the president of Russia.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.

DMITRIY MEDVEDEV, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: I understand you. I transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: You got to read the screen to really hear it. The president is now trying to make light of the incident, but his Republican rivals aren't having any of it.

SAMBOLIN: In four hours, we could be witnessing the defining moment in the historic debate over health care reform. Hundreds of protesters are outside the Supreme Court. They were there yesterday for the first day of arguments.

Day two unfolds at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. The issue here, can the government force you to buy something you don't want? Americans are divided on this.

A new CNN poll shows 43 percent favor the mandate and 50 percent oppose it. Politics are playing a big role in this debate, 68 percent of Democrats approve of the president's health care reforms. Just 10 percent of Republicans support it.

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum slamming the president and the law.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a power grab by the federal government. It violates the tenth amendment. It violates the economic principles of economic freedom in this country. It's wrong. It needs to be repealed.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's going to take our freedom away. It's going to destroy the economy in this country. It's going to raise unemployment rates. It's going the balloon the size of the government and it's going to dramatically increase our deficit. This is a loser on every single front.


SAMBOLIN: And Kate Bolduan is live from the Supreme Court. Kate, I say that you got to be a little nerdy to sit through all of the arguments, but today is really the meat and potatoes of it. Can you explain why today is so important?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Today, this is the issue that this entire case, this entire three days really hinges on. We have two hours of oral arguments coming up later this morning and it's getting to the core question, is the individual mandate constitutional?

We keep talking about the individual mandate, but just to remind our viewers this is a requirement in the health care law that would require nearly every American to have some form of health insurance getting in 2014 or pay a financial penalty.

Now three lower courts previously found the law constitutional, although one other court found the law unconstitutional, this circuit's split. The Supreme Court was going to have to step in to make the final determination, the final decision on this issue.

A coalition of 26 states have come together to challenge the law saying that this individual mandate is unconstitutional. Their argument is that the constitution does not give the government the power to force Americans to buy a product that they may not need or want.

But the Obama administration is defending its position saying the law is constitutional because it's not necessarily a choice, if you will. They say every American is going to have to need medical care in their lifetime so it's not a choice to participate in the health care market.

We'll be watching very closely to see whether more conservative justices, where their line of questioning will go this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Well, it's got to be pretty nerve-racking to face the justices, right? You actually spoke to the lawyer who is arguing against Obama's plan. What does he have to say?

BOLDUAN: Exactly. His name is Paul Clement. He's arguing on behalf of the 26 states that are challenging this law. He's somewhat of a rock star, if you will, in conservative legal circles.

He is the go-to guy for conservative causes, arguing everything from gun rights to affirmative action and now the biggest of all health care.

I had a moment to talk to him kind of pick his brain about what he's thinking going into the arguments. Listen to this.


BOLDUAN: Do you still get nervous when you go before the justices?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Have you seen these arguments? Do you see the justices? Do you see what kind of questions they ask? I mean, I'm not crazy. That's why I continue to get nervous. It's a nerve-racking business.

BOLDUAN: Do you leave the courtroom knowing that's a "W" or --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, definitely not and I've seen too many arguments whether I did the argument or somebody else, you walk out maybe they're going this way and they surprise you.

BOLDUAN: They still can surprise you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely.


BOLDUAN: Paul Clement will be in the spotlight today starting at 10:00 here in D.C. at the Spring Port. We will, of course, need to remind our viewers, all be it, we're going to be watching very closely where things go today and tomorrow. We're still not going to get the final opinion from the justices likely for a few months, into June so everyone has to hold on.

SAMBOLIN: It's still going to be interesting to see what comes out today. Kate Bolduan live from the Supreme Court. Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Now, 5 minutes past 6 on the east coast. And the parents of Trayvon Martin are taking their case to Capitol Hill today, expected to attend a congressional forum on racial profiling and hate crimes.

In the meantime, there are some new details concerning the teenager's death last month that are emerging. According to a leaked police report that's been published in "The Orlando Sentinel" newspaper, George Zimmerman, the shooter in this case told police that Trayvon Martin attacked him, bashing his head to the ground.

He says he opened fire in self-defense and Zimmerman's friend tells CNN's Anderson Cooper that the shooting was not racially motivated.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN'S "AC 360": So he's saying he was on his way back to his vehicle and Trayvon Martin actually attacked him?

JOE OLIVER, FRIEND OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Yes, that's what he's saying. That's what the police report is saying, that's what he has talked with me about.

I do believe George Zimmerman was in fear for his life, yes. I believe at some point in that confrontation, George felt like and believed with all his heart he had to make a decision to defend himself and to save his life.


BANFIELD: Now there are other witness' accounts claimed to have seen something very different.


MARY CUTCHER, WITNESSED SHOOTING AFTERMATH: Zimmerman was standing over the body with basically straddling the body with his hands on Trayvon's back, and it didn't seem to me that he was trying to help him in any way. It didn't seem to me -- I didn't hear any struggle prior to the gunshot, and I feel like it was Trayvon Martin that was crying out because the minute that the gunshot went off, the whining stopped.


BANFIELD: There are more calls for the arrest of George Zimmerman. At a town hall meeting in Sanford, Florida, it was particularly vocal. Trayvon's mother admits that he was suspended from school at one point after marijuana residue was found in his school backpack, but she says that is irrelevant.


SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: They've killed my son and now they're trying to kill his reputation.


BANFIELD: There are rallies demanding justice for Trayvon and they're continuing across the country. Protests were held in a dozen cities yesterday stretching from Atlanta to San Francisco.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live in Sanford, Florida, where the actual killing occurred. Martin Savidge, any sign that this pressure, this community pressure is going to let up at all as we move forward into this week?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't seem like it, no. There are certainly still very strong opinions both in Sanford and across the country, many of them in support of Trayvon Martin and the belief that justice just simply has not been served here.

The question mark has always been, you know, why has not George Zimmerman been arrested, at least that's what's coming from the community from those who support Trayvon Martin.

You talk about that information that came out yesterday and it was a crucial day yesterday for a number of reasons. Number one, it was the one-month anniversary, not quite correct, but one month since the shooting.

And then, of course, you had this very vocal town meeting that took place. So on the very same day, the supporters of Trayvon Martin say, well, now this police report gets leaked. They find that suspicious.

They also find that the information coming out about Trayvon's suspension really they say that amounts to nothing more than character assassination, the young man not able to defend himself and the family trying to speak out on his behalf.

Then you have those that support George Zimmerman and they say, look, he has not been able to tell his story because of the ongoing investigation. They believe quite strongly it was self-defense and that this investigation would seem to bear that out, his attorney said he suffered a broken nose and he suffered cuts to the back of his head.

This was as a result of being attacked by Trayvon and so that is the whole issue here. You have these two opposing sides, and they're both very strong in their beliefs. The controversy is going nowhere at this particular time -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So while you say the controversy is going nowhere, and clearly, we are all in the dark about a lot of the facts in this case and yet we still have other facts swirling out there. Is there any thought there might be some strategic point to the leak from the police? Because the police have been taking a hammering daily for how they treated this case and all of a sudden the newspaper in Orlando gets some very sort of juicy material.

SAVIDGE: Right, well, you know, it's interesting. A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with Chief Bill Lee, he was the police chief of Sanford here until he stepped down temporarily.

And I asked him about this particular case and at that time, he told me that the evidence that authorities had gathered, and he wouldn't go into it in great detail.

But he said the evidence they had, the 911 calls they had, the interviews that they had done with witnesses not to mention George Zimmerman's own account, all tended to back up what George Zimmerman had said.

Now we get the police report that was leaked, the authorities here would not comment about how it got leaked, but they did say was that the report was accurate. So once again we have authorities that are sort of saying here that it was Trayvon who was the aggressor, of course, his family totally disagrees as do many of the supporters.

BANFIELD: All right, CNN's Martin Savidge live for us in Sanford, Florida this morning. Thanks very much for that.

And at 8:30 Eastern this morning, our colleague, Soledad O'Brien is going to talk to Florida State Attorney Angela Corey who is the special prosecutor who's been switched in to this case to investigate all of the details.

And also Soledad is going to host a town hall meeting called "Beyond Trayvon, Race and Justice In America." You can see it Friday at 8:00 and 10:00 Eastern Time right here on CNN. That's 8 and 10 p.m. Eastern.

SAMBOLIN: It's 11 minutes past the hour. Still ahead, new information out of Afghanistan, the sergeant accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians was spotted by fellow troops in between the killing spree. Could some of the deaths have been avoided?

BANFIELD: And also ahead, is this thing on? Yes it is, Mr. President. While you're looking friendly and having a nice quiet moment as reporters file in, everything you're saying can be heard. So what exactly did he say and what did it mean? All coming up in a moment.

SAMBOLIN: And northern exposure, a Canada court ruling offering a safer world for sex workers. You're hearing right. We're going to explain it coming up. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: It is 15 minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories making news this morning.

Here's Christine Romans.

Good morning again.


Live pictures of the U.S. Supreme Court for the second day, a critical second day of arguments set to begin at the Supreme Court in less than four hours. I guarantee you -- the colonnade there, those steps are going to be covered with reporters and onlookers today.

On today's agenda, the individual mandate in the president's health care overhaul. The justices must eventually decide if the federal government can require to you buy health insurance even if you don't want it.

Military officials say troops saw Staff Sergeant Bales on base between his alleged killings sprees in Afghanistan. Investigators say Bales told other soldiers he just killed military aged Afghan men. Bales is suspected of killing 17 Afghan villagers, including women and children in two separate attacks.

Researchers report the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused a lot of damage to coral formation deep beneath the surface of the Gulf. Scientists using remote control probes spotted one coral colony covered in black scum seven miles from the gusher. It could take years to understand the full extent of that spill's environmental impact.

A Canadian court rules against laws designed to limit prostitution. Prostitution is legal in Canada, but tough laws still make sex workers subject to arrest. The top court in Ontario called most laws discriminatory because they limit prostitute's ability to work in safe environments.

For an expanded look at all of our top stories this morning, head to our blog Ashleigh -- and Zoraida.

BANFIELD: All right. Thanks, Christine.

Seventeen minutes now past the hour.

And one open mic comment to Russian's president and it is certainly open season on our president. Private conversation between the two presidents, Medvedev and President Obama, in south Korea -- I guess President Obama wasn't quite sure that microphone that mic was on and ended up discussing NATO missile defense system in Europe with Medvedev.

He was caught on tape asking the Russian president, the outgoing Russian president, for a little bit of space until at least after the November election.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.

DMITRI MEDVEDEV, RUSSIA'S PRESIDENT: I understand you. I transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.


BANFIELD: "And I stand with you." It's nice to hear the accent but it's really tough to listen.

So, here's what happened. The president the next day trying to make light of the open mic moment. In the morning, he was actually jokingly covering up the microphone before shaking Medvedev hand.

But no one in the Republican Party is seeming to laugh about this. In fact, Mitt Romney on the campaign trail, pouncing on the president, especially on "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia continues to support Syria, supports Iran, has fought us with the crippling sanctions we wanted to have the world put in place against Iran. Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage and for this president to be looking for greater flexibility where he doesn't have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia is very, very troubling.


BANFIELD: Mitt Romney also accusing the president of pulling his punches with the American people. The White House says that Mitt Romney is distorting what the president actually said to President Medvedev.

SAMBOLIN: Eighteen minutes past the hour here.

Still ahead, extreme smash and grab. Take a look at this -- thieves take a Jeep, ram it right through a jewelry store window. Quite a heist.

BANFIELD: And also, four-day school week in your child's future? Brand new study warning that more school cuts are ahead, but is that the way to go?

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: All right. We are minding your business this morning.

More cuts to your kids' education. Can you believe it? That's what you can expect according to a new survey from the American Association of School Administrators.

BANFIELD: And we're very sorry to wake you up with that news.

But Christine Romans is the one who brought it to us. So, you're going to blame her.

ROMANS: No, no, no. I'm just delivering.

And, you know, I want to tell you that in this report again from the American Association of School Administrators, they do say there is light at the end of the tunnel and that states will increasingly find stable fiscal footing. What that means is things are getting better.

But as the headline of the CNN Money story says, you know, the economic recovery is slow coming to your classroom and that's true. They made big cuts in 2010, and they're still probably going to have to make some cuts in 2011.

BANFIELD: But this is a public education crisis, right?

ROMANS: Public education crisis. Look about a third of schools increased class sizes in 2010-2011, a third of schools and parents again and again say I don't want more kids in my class. I want more teachers in my class, not more kids in my class.

A third of schools just dropped field trips altogether. A very important part of the educational process, right? A fifth of schools furloughed workers. Two-thirds of schools had to lay people off and half the schools deferred their building maintenance.

A majority of schools did things like they're tweaking their thermostats. They're making it a little colder during the winter and a little warmer during the summer so they can try to save money. All of this is just part of this big global issue with weathering the storm as this report said.

Now, when you look forward to what lies ahead for next year for 2012 and 2013, this survey found that more schools are going to have four-day weeks.

Now, right now, about 4 percent of schools have -- that's not very many but it could be up to 10 percent of schools, one in ten could have a four-day school week. Summer school cuts, a lot of schools are just cutting summer school altogether and more job cuts.

At a time when --

SAMBOLIN: This is going to severely impact education in the country.

ROMANS: It's already happening. It's already happening and we're looking at the third year of these big cuts even as the economy is starting to recover, right?

BANFIELD: School is the last place to feel the benefit of a recovering economy?

ROMANS: Apparently, things move very slowly. It's like turning that ship on a dime, trying to save money and they haven't had a real, great success keeping up with the changing times for the economy.

Now, as people start to get back in the workforce, start to pay more taxes, as the housing get better and people start to pay more property taxes -- all of these things will feed into the schools. None of it happens quickly.

SAMBOLIN: So, they're saying about two years?

ROMANS: About two years, and it's also an issue of stimulus money running out and there are some schools that have become reliant on stimulus money as well.

So, basically, the story about schools still a big story and lots of -- it comes to your kitchen table, you know? I mean, this is what people are talking about.

BANFIELD: It's distressing to hear that.

Christine --

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: -- thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome for the distressing information.

BANFIELD: Yes, I know. Thanks for bringing that along, right?

Twenty-five minutes now past 6:00.

And still to come on EARLY START, the Supremes are taking on the president, at least his health care reform act. And our next guest is someone who's been there, done that, been before the Supremes many times over. So, he's got a little experience to share with us on how tough it is to present a case.

SAMBOLIN: And no appointment necessary here. Crooks helped themselves to jewelry in a smash-and-grab robbery. It's pretty bold, isn't it? They got away with it.

You're watching EARLY START.


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BANFIELD: It is 30 minutes now past 6:00. Excuse me. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

Health care reform on trial. The individual mandate in the president's health care overhaul will be the focus of the debate this later this morning at the Supreme Court.

Opponents of the law say it is unconstitutional to force to you buy something you don't want. The justices are expected to decide the issue sometime in June.

New details about the night Trayvon Martin was shot dead. According to a leaked police report, in "The Orlando Sentinel," George Zimmerman claims the teen punched him in the face and slammed his head to the ground before he shot him in self-defense.

A wildfire kills one person in Colorado, at least a handful of homes burnt to the ground in Jefferson County. Take a look at those pictures. Evacuations have been ordered for nearly 1,000 homes. The fire is being fanned by extremely dry conditions.

And police in Ohio are looking for two thieves. Look at that -- they committed a smash-and-grab robbery in a jewelry store using a truck. The robbers crashed a stolen Jeep through the front door of the store in Akron and stole an unknown amount of jewelry.

BANFIELD: It is 31 minutes now past 6:00.

And it's also day two of some historic oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court. Twenty-six states and the National Federation of Independent Businesses and some individuals as well are all challenging the president's health care law that was signed into law two years ago. Today is really the first big day, even though we heard arguments yesterday. Today, the justices are going to hear about that requirement that everyone buy individual health insurance, that mandate you keep hearing about.

Americans certainly are divided about this, because there's a new CNN/ORC poll that has come up showing 43 percent of us approve of the overall law but 50 percent of us aren't so keen on it.

It's also important to note that of those who disapprove, 37 percent of them think that the whole thing is just too liberal. Ten percent of it say we disapproved because it's not liberal enough. So, interesting distinction there.

Tom Goldstein has argued 24 cases -- 24, that's two dozen -- before the Supreme Court. He's the founder and publisher of Also need to note that he's filed an amicus brief, that's a friend of the court brief, for AARP, arguing for this law's constitutionality.

It's great to talk to you, Tom. Thanks for getting up early with us.

TOM GOLDSTEIN, FOUNDER & PUBLISHER, SCOTUSBLOG.COM: Good morning. Thanks so much for having me.

BANFIELD: So, right off the bat. I know where you stand. So, let's not get into the politics of it.

But I do want you to give me a bit of a feel for the historic nature -- just how big a deal is this on a scale of like Watergate and Bush v. Gore.

GOLDSTEIN: Probably the two of them together.


GOLDSTEIN: It's hard to imagine a more important case because you're talking really the basic questions under our Constitution, how much power does Congress have. And you throw into it that it's the president's signature achievement, it's an election year and it's about health care, which affects so many people. It doesn't get any bigger than this.

BANFIELD: OK. So, a lot of people said this is like the broccoli law. And I just want to get to the heart of the broccoli law being that, look, why am I going to be forced to buy a product that I maybe don't want. It's a product that's supposed to make me well. Well, broccoli is something I can eat that could make me well and you can't force me to buy or eat broccoli.

What's different than broccoli and Obamacare? Or how people have termed Obamacare, it's not Obamacare. It's actually the Affordable Care Act.


Well, that's the argument, on the side of the argument. On the other side is what that Congress is regulating how it is that you're going to purchase health care which is something that you're inevitably going to do. The Constitution says that Congress can regulate interstate commerce.

So the question is, and what's going to be debated today in the Supreme Court -- are you engaging in commerce when you're deciding to self-insure, pay for health insurance yourself, or is this as you say the creation of commerce by Congress, which it can't do the plaintiffs say.

BANFIELD: Right. So, the inactivity thing, because I get it, Tom, when you say Congress is allowed to regulate commerce, why are they allowed to regulate me if I don't want to engage in commerce?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, the defenders of the law say that you actually are engaging in commerce. Everybody is going to need health care. If you decide to pay for it yourself, you're still getting health care. You're still self-insuring. Congress is regulating how it is you do that.

It's very different they say from forcing you to go out and buy a product because you're inevitably going to be in this market anyway.

BANFIELD: Let me ask you about the Americans polled. We showed that the majority of Americans really don't like this. We're looking at pictures right now of people out on the court steps both for and against this law.

But -- I mean, to be honest, there's 2,700 pages in this legislation. There are 450 provisions. I work with this stuff on a regular basis and I don't feel like I know even the tip of this iceberg.

Are people being sucked up into the bumper sticker arguments getting out by the politicians or do you think people really understand what's at the heart of this?

GOLDSTEIN: I don't think people understand in the most recent polling -- 17 percent of Americans believe the statute's already been struck down as constitutional. We haven't even finished the arguments.


GOLDSTEIN: I think the administration really has acknowledged that it didn't do the greatest job after it finally got the bill passed defending it and explaining it and most of what we hear about is, of course, in the Republican presidential primary, Republicans -- many of them strong opposed to the statute, even though arguably it was original Republican kind of free market idea.

So, I think there's a lot to be learned. I'm glad that CNN's spending so much time on the statute and its constitutionality and people really need to know about the laws and decide, hey, if I don't like this law, the Supreme Court doesn't strike it down, and then I'm going to vote for people who will repeal it.

BANFIELD: You know something, Tom -- my friends and I who work at CNN are very proud of our dorkiness. So in your least dorky language, I want you to help me through this. We got just a few seconds left, in your very least dorky language -- you have walked the hallowed halls and argued before the justices before. It is -- it is such an overwhelming experience.

What should we be listening for today from these justices that would give us an indication of where they might be going on the mandate?

GOLDSTEIN: Probably two things. First, the question you were asking -- do they look at the case as if it is Congress trying to make someone buy something, or do they believe that people already are in this market. If they are already in the market, if they're already getting health care, already getting health insurance or self- insuring, then it's much easier for them to say this is something Congress can regulate. If it's about buying a product, it's much harder.

The other thing is we're listening for specific justices, four more liberal justices on the Supreme Court seem quite likely vote to uphold the statute. You need five here. So, Justice Kennedy, our swing vote, maybe Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito. Are there some favorable questions regarding the law from the court's right?

BANFIELD: And I know one thing, we are probably not going to hear any indications from Clarence Thomas.

GOLDSTEIN: That's right. He hasn't asked a question in about six years.

BANFIELD: I know. It just fascinates me. Tom Goldstein, it's good to talk to you. Thanks very much for getting up early with us.

GOLDSTEIN: Hey, thanks for having me.


SAMBOLIN: Thirty-seven minutes past the hour here, very easy to understand.

BANFIELD: Isn't that great? Love that.

SAMBOLIN: Coming up on EARLY START, more calls for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. There are new rallies and a new version of the fatal confrontation as well.

BANFIELD: Also, he's back. Herman Cain, with a new ad and this one say bunny boiler. It's weird. It has a girl, a bunny, a catapult and a gun. We're going to let you know how this ends and we're going to let you know why it's not really over.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. 41 minutes past the hour.

New questions on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin after details of the account that the shooter gave to police were leaked to "The Orlando Sentinel." According to the "Sentinel" report, Zimmerman told police he was returning to his SUV when the teen approached him and punched him in the nose, then he climbed on top of him and slammed his head into the sidewalk. "The Sentinel" quotes authorities saying much of the account is corroborated by witnesses.

We're also learning Trayvon Martin had been suspended from school after marijuana residue was found in his book bag. Trayvon's parents confirm the suspension but say it's irrelevant to this case. They will be in Washington today for a judiciary committee hearing on racial profiling and on hate crimes. Yesterday, they attended a town hall meeting along with an overflow crowd.

And more marches for justice in more than a dozen U.S. cities.


CROWD: What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now!


SAMBOLIN: It's included with one in Atlanta. It was attended by Morehouse College senior Courtney Ward. Courtney joins us now, along with Albert Dotson. He's a lawyer and chairman of 100 Black Men in America.

Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us this morning.

Courtney, I want to begin with you. I know that you're having discussions in your English class about this. We're hearing these latest details, right, and they say that Trayvon was actually the aggressor here.

There are folks that are now defending Zimmerman's actions and supposed witnesses there are corroborating his story. Do you think that this is going to change the dialogue that you are having with fellow students?

COURTNEY WARD, SENIOR AT MORHOUSE COLLEGE: Well I think it's important to note that the dialogue is actually happening. More than anything, I think it's important for the parents and for the country to know the truth and exactly what happened to Trayvon Martin. And I think that supersedes any new evidence that has come out.

SAMBOLIN: But what is the dialogue that is happening right now amongst you and your fellow students?

WARD: Well, it resonates on a personal level. A lot of the students that we work with, with 100 Black Men, are the same age as Trayvon Martin. I'm myself not that much older than him.

And so, the dialogue does consist about dealing with the images of black men and how that's portrayed in this country, the idea of being able to go down a street and being confronted by someone who has views of African-Americans and the implications of that.

SAMBOLIN: And, Albert, you have a teenaged son and you also mentor black men.

How do you explain this case to them and what details about it stand out to you that you need to share with these young men?

ALBERT DOTSON, JR., CHAIRMAN, 100 BLACK MEN OF AMERICA, INC.: Well, first of all, I want to thank you for having us this morning to discuss the tragedy of Trayvon Martin.

Yes, I do have a teenaged son and I let him know first that he's blessed to be African-American, that it's important that he understand that there are people that may treat him differently because of some illness that they might have or some bigoted approach that they might take, and that he needs to know how to respond when that happens.

And people like Courtney are members of our mentoring program and we try to make sure that all of our young people, as we mentor them, are given the skill sets, as well as the strategies to address situations like this.

SAMBOLIN: I want to talk about something very specific with the two of you, as black men. It's the hoodie that keeps on coming up, right? Is it how the hoodie is worn? Is it how it's perceived by people? How do you address that particular issue? And Courtney, I'm going to start with you.

WARD: You know, I think that to take the conversation and make it about the hoodie is somewhat senseless. The hoodie is obviously something worn by many athletes, college students and high school students alike. And so it's really not about the hoodie. I think it speaks more to the idea of the psyche of how we view African-American men and the value that we put on African-American men's lives. And so that to me speaks louder than the hoodie itself.

SAMBOLIN: But Albert, do you talk about attire, and how people perceive attire, particularly in young African-American men?

DOTSON: Of course we do discuss attire, but Courtney is absolutely right. We don't want to denegrate this situation by focusing only on the hoodie. We understand that it has become the icon that represents what took place and how people might perceive you based on what you're wearing. So, yes, we discussed attire.

But whether you're wearing a hoodie or a shirt and tie, you need to be aware of your surroundings, make sure that you understand that people may perceive you differently than you perceive yourself. And you want to dress appropriately for the situation.

SAMBOLIN: What does that mean? When you say appropriately, what does that mean?

DOTSON: Well, let's understand - I think when you and I when we were growing up, we dressed in probably what was a faddish way at the time. And we have to understand that fads might be okay, but we have to also be aware as we move through the streets and through the halls of our schools and through our workplaces that there is a uniform sometimes that we need to wear and as an appropriate attire for the moment.

But most importantly, we have to understand that people will perceive us differently based on what we're wearing. But let's not again focus on the victim and what the victim was wearing, and how the victim was perceived by someone who was watching him walk through a neighborhood.

SAMBOLIN: Gentlemen, one last question. We've been down this road before, right? Where we are outraged by something we perceive is a senseless crime. How do you think this dialogue perhaps can continue or actually affect change? I don't have a lot of time, Courtney, but if you could tell me and then I'll move on to you, Albert.

WARD: Certainly. Here in Georgia we also have the Stand Your Ground law. I think people need to be more educated about the law and take steps to become aware about how they can actually have a voice in the conversation.


DOTSON: I concur with that. Obviously, we have it here in Florida. But we also need to make sure young people understand the strategies to remain alive as they walked the halls of their schools and the streets of their neighborhoods.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Albert Dotson, Courtney Ward. Thank you so for joining us this morning, gentlemen.

DOTSON: Our pleasure.

WARD: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Strategies to remain alive. That's hard to hear. It's just hard to hear. It's 47 minutes now past 6:00. Soledad O'Brien joining us now live with a look at what's coming up on STARTING POINT. Hey, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Hey, ladies. Good morning to you both.

President Obama's health care overhaul law has its second day in court day in the Supreme Court. The Court will take up the biggest issue in this legal dispute, which of course is the individual mandate provision. I'll speak with Bill McCallum. He's the former Florida attorney general who thinks the Affordable -- he filed a lawsuit against the Affordable Health Care Act and he'll tell us why he thinks it is unconstitutional this morning. Also, we'll continue to talk about the Trayvon Martin case. New details have been leaked to the press. George Zimmerman is now claiming the teenager punched him in the face and slammed his head on the ground. We're going to speak this morning to Angela Corey. She's the lead prosecutor in the case. She's investigating the case. We'll talk about the national outrage and we'll talk about some of those leaks as well.

And Donald Sutherland will talk to us about his new movie. He plays a President Snow in "The Hunger Games." Great movie, just saw it a couple of days ago. He tells us why he thinks this movie is resonating so well, not only with young people but adults as well.

Those stories and much more ahead as STARTING POINT gets underway, right at the top of the hour.


SAMBOLIN: Well it's a tough time to be in the pink slime business, although it's called lean, boneless beef. The maker of the meat filler announced it has suspended operations in all but one plant because there is outrage over the product. It's costing the company business now. Two hundred people will lose their jobs at three plants.

Pink slime, as it's called, is made up of ground beef, beef scraps, connective tissues and other trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill germs. It is FDA approved, however.

BANFIELD: Yum. Sounds delish.


BANFIELD: Also, another new ad from Herman Cain, might have you scratching your head and petting your favorite bunny rabbit. The ad was temporarily yanked from YouTube, but it's back. And it's for his new movement Sick of Stimulus. It's all about a rabbit being shot. But you be the judge. Have a look.


UNIDETIFIED CHILD'S VOICE: This is small business.

UNIDETIFIED CHILD'S VOICE: This is small business under the current tax code.





(END VIDEO CLIP) BANFIELD: OK, it's kind of creepy. I getcha. Here he goes. Any questions? The bunny is meant to be a metaphor for the tax code. The video was flagged. It was taken down, but like I said before, Herman Cain took to Twitter and said that his free speech rights were violated. So, it ended up back online --

SAMBOLIN: Head scratcher.

BANFIELD: And that's that.

SAMBOLIN: Still ahead, a check of the top stories, the big stories we're watching for you. Live at the Supreme Court, the centerpiece of President Obama's health care law on trial today.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Just about 7:00. Two big stories we're watching today.

BANFIELD: Never to be mendacious, we like to deliver when we say we're watching them. Word of the Day.

Kate Bolduan is live at the main event in the health care fight, the mandate on tap today. And Martin Savidge is on the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida. First, I want to go to you, Kate. You're at the high court. I think I hear voices behind you.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The excitement and probably some protesting is already starting to begin. Two hours of oral arguments is what's coming up this morning. Cutting to the core of this case: the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the provision requiring most Americans have health insurance beginning in 2013 or pay a financial penalty. The lower courts split on the issue.

That's why it was almost assured the Supreme Court would take this up and make a final determination in this matter. Twenty-six states are suing; the Obama administration is defending the law. This is new - this is really chartering new legal territory. But it does come back to a century's old conflict in the legal system: states' rights versus federal authority. Big, big moment today all eyes on the justices. We'll be here to bring it to you.

BANFIELD: Looking forward to it. Kate Bolduan, thanks.

And now to Martin Savidge is live in Sanford, Florida, on the Trayvon Martin case.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Also in Washington today, the parents of Trayvon Martin. They're going to be up there on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers. It's expected that their attorney will be testifying before a committee today.

Meanwhile, new allegations coming out. New investigation from the investigation in the local newspaper. And they portray the 17- year-old as the aggressor. George Zimmerman says Trayvon punched him in the face and began beating his head into the sidewalk. And that's raising a lot of anger from Trayvon Martin supporters. Zoraida?

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much. Martin Savidge, live in Florida for us.

BANFIELD: And we are wrapping it all up. I still have, like, two words of the day I haven't been able to squeeze in.

SAMBOLIN: Just put them out there, Ashleigh!

BANFIELD: Freebird, I just couldn't do it. But you look particularly lovely, like a freebird today. Lame! Lame! I'm going to have to do the other one I'll do tomorrow. Can't do it. I just can't work it in. Some days you can, some days you can't.


That's the news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.