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Alabama v. Voting Rights Act; Lurid Details in Cannibal Cop Case; Hundreds of Immigrants Released; Obama Speaks at Rosa Parks Ceremony.

Aired February 27, 2013 - 11:30   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four years ago, the city council redrew voting lines. Montgomery lost re-election by two votes.

ERNEST MONTGOMERY, CALERA, ALABAMA CITY COUNCILMAN: They added four large subdivisions which was predominantly white through my district which diluted our district down from a 67 percent African-American district to about a 28 percent.

JOHNS: But the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in and helped Montgomery get his job back, saying the county needed to get federal approval to make the changes under the Voting Right Act, first signed by Lyndon Johnson in 1965.


LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To eliminate the last vestiges of injustice.


JOHNS: At the heart of the act is what's known as Section 5, which allows the Justice Department or a court to shut down discriminatory changes to voting laws, mostly in southern states, before they go into effect.

President Bush and Congress saw the need to review the law in 2006.


JOHNS: But now Shelby County, Alabama, where Calera is located is challenging Section 5 as a violation of the state's rights.

(on camera): The symbols and historic landmarks of the old south are all around Shelby County, Alabama. Just one county to the north, at this church in Birmingham, four little black girls were killed in a bombing in 1963. Now the Supreme Court has been asked to accept the argument that the south has changed to what some say is the heart of the Voting Rights Act.

(voice-over): Frank Ellis is the Shelby County attorney.

FRANK ELLIS, ATTORNEY: The south is not the same south it was in 1964. The whole country has changed. We're a dynamic society. JOHNS: How much things have changed is disputed. Whites we spoke with in this local diner said they see the election of the first black president is real sign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I look at the discrimination going back 15 years, ten years in the south. I think we are gaining ground.

JOHNS: But African-Americans recall the battle in the black election over alleged voter suppression and some say things have gotten worse because Obama's election mate some white voters angry.

REV. HARRY JONES, CALERA, ALABAMA RESIDENT: You have some people who are very unhappy. During the election time, you know, you had dummies of President Obama hanging from the trees.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Johns, as I said, is listening to the arguments and is a lawyer himself, has a good grasp on this subject.

Listen, we've just come through an election where voter I.D. issues became prominent right up to the Election Day. Not only that but the elimination of early voting, which many say affected the minority voting across the country.

But the states that are effected by this often say it's an onerous law, it's costly, burdensome, and a bit of a scarlet letter for states who have to get these special permissions from the Washington, from the federal government in order to actually change the laws as they'd like to see them fit.

Others point straight to the data. You take census data from 2010 and apply it to today and it's simply not fair. So there are really interesting arguments on going. If of you see the tunnel area in front of a lot of people, who have been speaking out quite vociferously on these issues.

Our Joe Johns will be coming very soon through that tunnel to emerge from the Supreme Court to let us know how everything went.

Why? Because we can't get cameras into the Supreme Court yet. There's always hope. There's always hope. We can get audio. No cameras yet.

While we wait for Joe Johns, there's another case on our radar as well. The testimony has been really gruesome and lurid and flat-out bizarre. Find out why they call this man a cannibal cop. He's back in court today.


BANFIELD: It is gruesome and disgusting. A husband, a father and a police officer charged with planning to kill and eat his wife and also kill and eat his college pal. But planning to do something and actually doing that something are two vastly different things sometimes. That's at the heart of the case of the cannibal cop in New York City. Is he anything more than just a guy with some very sick fantasies? He's back in the courtroom today and every day it seems to get worse.

Let's take a look at our legal panel. Judge Glenda Hatchett is here in Atlanta, and Sunny Hostin in New York.

Judge Hatchett, let me begin with you.

We have gone over and over for the last couple of days whether we're allowed to be the throughout police here. I want to push it. There were plenty of thoughts and e-mails and all sorts of e-mails that were being alleged of this conspiracy online, but nothing happened and nobody was hurt. How far do you have to go before it become as crime?

GLENDA HATCHETT, TV JUDGE: This really is disgusting. And, you know, the real core of this case, Ashleigh, is going to come down to whether this was a fantasy or whether he took another steps to act out a plan or to plan a plan, to plot a plan, to hurt these people. His attorney says, no. The defense attorney takes a different stand on this. Once you start having pictures and once you are stalking these people in the sense of cyber stalking and you have a specific thing that you are talking about doing to these people, that's where you cross the line.

BANFIELD: That's a really tough bar to sort of achieve.


BANFIELD: Sunny, jump in here and tell me, do you know of cases in the past, do of you know of anything where we've had a conspiracy where it's been brewing. Police love to watch the conspiracy because they just collect all the evidence. But, again, at what point and how much tangible work do you have to do before your thoughts become crimes?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I hate to disagree with the judge, my friend, there, but I'm going have to disagree, because I think the bar is pretty high, especially to prove a conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt. You've got to have that act, that overt act in furtherance of that conspiracy. Yes, maybe you're fantasizing and you have the names, which makes the fantasy all the more juicier for you and scintillating for you, and maybe you're now corresponding with the person, but unless you, in my view, go a step farther, it's just not enough. Prosecutors shouldn't be in the business of being the thought police.

It reminds me of the movie "Minority Report" with Tom Cruise, where you get arrested for committing a murder that you haven't yet committed. That's where this prosecution, in my view, is going. I think it sets a very dangerous precedent. If they don't show more -- because it's been going on for a couple of days.


BANFIELD: I'll tell you what. We're going have so much more to talk about each time. Judge Hatchett, last thought, real quick.

HATCHETT: Real quick, I think, at some point, where does it become a threat? You know, people are prosecuted on terroristic threats all the time. I think this is a fascinating case. I think there's enough here that will tip the balance, so it will be interesting to see it going forward.

BANFIELD: We'll continue to watch the evidence and report on it as it becomes available.

Thank you both. Stay with us, both of you. We've got more cases to cover.

And at the same time, we've got to a live eye in Washington, D.C., this Rosa Parks statue. Some big wigs, they have been speaking. Harry Reid at the podium right now. You can see off to his right, before the camera panned to the audience, the president is going to be speaking as well. We'll cover that live.

Stay tuned. We'll be back right after this.


BANFIELD: Hundreds of undocumented immigrants held in detention centers around the country are now free. Official says the unusual move is tied to this whole impending $85 billion basket of cuts coming our way on Friday. All of the people released are said to be, quote, "noncriminals and other low-risk offenders." What's not surprising, however, Republican lawmakers are livid.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I frankly think this is outrageous. I'm looking for more facts, but I can't believe that they can't find the kind of savings they need out of that department short of letting criminals go free.

Our Jessica Yellin joins me live now from Washington, D.C.

First of all this sounds absolutely crazy. I'm not sure if you know the mechanics of this. It's not Friday. Was this a necessary move, political move? Was it something more to it than the headline screams?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Senior administration officials tell me it was actually a surprise to top aides, both at the White House and at the Department of Homeland Security. They learn that this was happening from a press release like the rest of us.

So rewind, Secretary Napolitano warned that this kind of thing could happen after the cuts kicked in, but they're caught off guard that it happened beforehand.

Yes, before you ask, I do believe that sometimes that's just how government works. I'm told it was just officials with the Immigration and Customs Office preparing not just for the cuts that are coming but also for this so-called budget continuing resolution at the end of the month.

BANFIELD: Jessica, I just need to cut you off for a moment because there's only one more person more important than you and it's the president and he's speaking live.


BANFIELD: So let's listen in at the capitol.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- Reid, Leader McConnell, Leader Pelosi, Assistant Leader Clyburn, to the friends and family of Rosa Parks, to the distinguished guests who are gathered here today.

This morning we celebrate a seamstress, slight in stature, but mighty in courage. She defied the odds and she defied injustice. She lived a life of activism but also a life of dignity and grace. And in a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world. Rosa Parks held no elected office. She possessed no fortune, lived her life far from the formal seats of power. And yet today, she takes her rightful place among those who've shaped this nation's course.

I thank al; those persons, in particular the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, both past and present, for making this moment possible.


OBAMA: A childhood friend once said about Mrs. Parks, nobody ever bossed Rosa around and got away with it. That's what an Alabama driver learned on December 1st, 1955. 12 years earlier, he had kicked Mrs. Parks off his bus simply because she entered through the front door when the back door was too crowded. He grabbed her sleeve and he pushed her off the bus. It made her mad enough, she would recall, that she avoided riding his bus for a while. And when they met again that winter evening in 1955, Rosa Parks would not be pushed. When the driver got up from his seat and insist that she give up hers, she would not be pushed. When he threatened to have her arrested, she simply replied, "You may do that." And he did.

A few days later, Rosa Parks challenged her arrest. A little known pastor new to the town and only 26 years old stood with her, a man named Martin Luther King Jr. So did thousands of Montgomery, Alabama, commuters. They began a boycott. Teachers and laborers, clergy and domestics, through rain and cold and sweltering heat, day after day, week after week, month after month, walking miles if they had to, arranging car pools where they could, not thinking about the blisters on their feet, the weariness after a full day of work, walking for respect, walking for freedom, driven by a solemn determination to affirm their God-given dignity. 385 days after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, the boycott ended. Black men and women and children reboarded the buses of Montgomery, newly desegregated, and sat in whatever seat happened to be open.


OBAMA: And with that victory, the entire edifice of segregation, like the ancient walls of Jericho, began to slowly come tumbling down.

It's been often remarked that Rosa Parks' activism didn't begin on that bus. Long before she made headlines, she had stood up for freedom, stood up for equality, fighting for voting rights, rallying against discrimination in the criminal justice system, serving in the local chapter of the NAACP. Her quiet leadership would continue long after she became an icon of the civil rights movement, working with Congress to find homes for the disadvantaged, preparing the disadvantaged youth to find a successful path, striving each day to right some wrong, somewhere in this world.

And yet our minds fasten on that single moment on the bus. Mrs. Parks, alone in that seat, clutching her purse, staring out a window, waiting to be arrested. That moment tells us something about how change happens or doesn't happen, the choices we make or don't make. For now we see through a glass, the scripture says. And it's true. Whether out of inertia or selfishness, whether out of fear or simple lack of moral imagination, we so often spend our lives as if in a fog, accepting injustice, rationalizing inequity, tolerating the intolerable, like the bus driver, but also like the passengers on the bus. We see the way things are -- children hungry in a land of plenty, entire neighborhoods ravaged by violence, families hobbled by job loss or illness -- and we make excuses for inaction, and we say to ourselves, it not my responsibility, there's nothing I can do. Rosa Parks tells us there's always something we can do. She tells us that we all have responsibilities to ourselves and to one another. She reminds us that this is how change happens. Not mainly through the exploits of the famous and the powerful, but through the countless acts of often anonymous courage and kindness and fellow feeling and responsibility that continually stubbornly expand out conception of justice, our perception of what is possible.

Rosa Parks' singular act of disobedience launched a movement. The tired feet of those who walked the dusty roads of Montgomery helped a nation see that to which it had once been blind. It is because these men and women that stand here today. It is because of them that our children grow up in a land more free and more fair, a land truer to its founding creed.

And that is why this statue belongs in this hall, to remind us no matter how humble or lofty our positions, just what it is that leadership requires. Just what it is that citizenship requires.

Rosa Parks would have turned 100 years old this month. We do well by placing a statue of her here. But we can do no greater honor to her than to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction. May God bless the memory of Rosa Parks and may God bless these United States of America.



BANFIELD: And there you have it, the president with his remarks in the capitol of the dedication of the Rosa Parks' statue. He says, "A seamstress, slight in stature, but mighty in courage, and she helped change America."

It is nice to see all of the House and Senate leadership together like this. It might nicer to see them together at some point discussing spending cuts as well. We don't have any breaking news on that at the moment.

As we go to it a break, we're going to come back and talk about one of the most significant things that perhaps Rosa Parks was able to kick off with her simple gesture and that was changes in voting laws, which came much later and which are on trial as we speak.

Back after this.

BANFIELD: I want to get you right back out to Washington, D.C., specifically the supreme court where Joe Johns is standing by, our justice correspondent.

You got 90 seconds to tell me what they said, how they said it, the tone, and where you think it's going, Joe.

JOHNS: Hey, Ashleigh. A fascinating discussion at the Supreme Court. Of course, the issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, passed first in 1965, reauthorized four times. The question, whether Section 5 is the heart of the bill to assure the rights of people to vote, now actually ought to be thrown out because perhaps it targets the wrong states or it's too broad.

This discussion really zeroed in on the fact that Alabama, of course, bringing the case, has had a long history of discrimination. Alabama claims now it has cleaned up its act, specifically Shelby County, which is the petitioner in this case. The justices clearly disagreed. It will likely be a very close decision when they finally finish this thing up.

Back to you.

BANFIELD: I remember in '09, the chief justice said Section 5's days were numbered.

Joe Johns, I know you'll be reporting on this throughout the rest of the day. I know you scrambled out here to get it to us. We appreciate it.


BANFIELD: That's all the time I have in this program.

Thank you, Joe Johns.

And thank you for watching as well. Stay tuned for "Around the World."