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DOMA Violates Equal Protection; Justices Rule on Federal Marriage Law; New England Patriots Fire Hernandez; Snowden Relaxing in Moscow; Edith Windsor Speaks Out; Witnesses on the Stand in Zimmerman Case

Aired June 26, 2013 - 12:00   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: The Supreme Court issues a landmark ruling. Same-sex marriage supporters across the country now celebrating.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Aaron Hernandez handcuffed, taken into cuffs and let go by the New England Patriots, all in the last few hours.

MALVEAUX: And a crucial day in the George Zimmerman trial. Emotional testimony from his neighbor. And a key decision from the judge on whether the jury can hear Zimmerman's previous 911 calls.

HOLMES: And Paula Deen apologizes in a national TV interview. She says, quote, "I'm what I is, and I'm not changing," unquote. Meanwhile, her empire takes another hit from another big sponsor.

MALVEAUX: We've got an extraordinary day of news for you. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

We are going to start at the U.S. Supreme Court. What a day there. After weeks of anticipation, the justices handing down two major rulings on same-sex marriage.

MALVEAUX: The court struck down a key part of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, which defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. The justices also dismissed an appeal over California's Proposition 8. That means that same-sex marriage will once again be legal in that state.

HOLMES: There is strong reaction to the rulings from both sides, not surprisingly, have a listen.


ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is about equality. And this means the marriages of people in my state, in New York, and all over American between same-sex couples are going to be treated equally under more than 1,100 provisions of federal law that use the term marriage or define benefits according to marriage. It's a great win.

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: And Justice Kennedy's opinion takes us right up to the brink of nationwide same- sex marriage. And I believe that will be a devastating thing for this country. I believe that marriage is a pre-political institution, that it's one of God's greatest gifts to all his human creatures, and that it always has been and always must be the union of a man and a woman.


HOLMES: And Joe Johns joining us now live from Washington.

Joe, let's start with the ruling on DOMA. Obviously a huge victory for same-sex marriage supporters. What is it about DOMA that the justices considered unconstitutional?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Michael, the courts said the Defensive Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it deprived same-sex couples of equal protection under the Fifth Amendment and that also, throughout history, defining and regulating marriage has always been the province of the individual states. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who delivered that opinion, said the Defense of Marriage Act simply rejected that tradition and said it's not acceptable either. I was in the courtroom when he read that. And when he read the rule, the part of it being unconstitutional, there was an audible squeal that came out from the supporters of equality in marriage in the back of the courtroom, Michael.

MALVEAUX: And, Joe, let's talk about the decent, because you had conservative Justice Antonin Scalia giving a rather lengthy decent from the bench and he said in part here, he said, "the court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better." I mean really saying that this -- the issue has been split here.

JOHNS: Right.

MALVEAUX: Where do they go from here? What more needs to be done?

JOHNS: Well, there's a lot more to be done. And first, I mean, to Scalia's point, he is saying that this is a political matter and that it's supposed to be decided by the electorate. He pointed out that in some states same-sex marriage has been approved. In others states it hasn't. He says it's not the province of the Supreme Court to step in and decide winners and losers when democracy is supposed to do that.

Where do they go from here? Well, it looks pretty clear that in the state of California, same-sex is going to be legal again in very short order. So the next question, of course, on that is whether you'll see another lawsuit with someone who has what's known as standing. That is a real injury and a real stake in the case to come forward and say they want to reinstate Proposition 8. So that's probably what would happen in California. Haven't seen that yet, Suzanne.

HOLMES: What more, Joe, about Prop 8, as it's known, another victory for same-sex marriage supporters, what else did the justices say in their opinions to justify that decision?

JOHNS: Well, I mean it was law school 101 really when you get right down to it. A civil procedure. The while idea of getting into federal court is the individual who takes a case to federal court says, I've lost something. Something has happened to me. I've been injured in some way and therefore I want to sue.

What the court is saying is that the individuals who are trying to, you know, prop up or protect the Defense of - protect the Proposition 8 were -- did not have a stake because all they were were supporters of Proposition 8 and that's what you need in order to get into federal court. The court also said, whatever you want to do in state court is fine with us. Federal government doesn't have anything to do with that.

HOLMES: All right, Joe, we'll leave it there. Thanks so much. Joe Johns there in Washington.

MALVEAUX: And President Obama just issued a statement on the ruling, the DOMA ruling at least. He said in part, "I applaud the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong and our country is better off for it"

I want to bring in our legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin to describe this.

And, first of all, this is going to impact millions of people's lives and it has a financial impact as well as something of a boost - of a moral boost here. Tell us about the finances behind it.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, this is a very big deal. There are lots of provisions in federal law that gives certain benefits to married people. For example, married people can file joint tax returns. That saves them money. Married people can receive Social Security survivor's benefits. That's obviously a very significant, financial advantage.

Under the Defense of Marriage Act, gay people who were married, in the 12 states where they are allowed to be married, did not and could not receive those benefits. This decision changes all that. In those 12 states, those people who are married to people of the same sex receive the same federal benefits that straight people do.

What is an interesting implication that the federal government is now going to have to figure out is, what about gay people who live in the 38 states who don't have the opportunity to get married. Can they start to receive some of those federal benefits if they are in a marriage-like relationship? Lots of implications but no doubt this was a huge victory for supporters of gay rights.

HOLMES: Yes, still cloudy on that. That's obviously going to be a big issue. But when it comes to Proposition 8, Prop 8 as it's known, what's at stake there?

TOOBIN: Well, that's a very simple question of, can gay people in California get married today? The supporters of - the people who brought that lawsuit say the answer is yes. And it appears to be right. The court dismissed that case on technical legal grounds on the doctrine of standing. It appears that, as a result of the decision by the Supreme Court, the law in that case is the district court decision which said Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. So the supporters of same-sex marriage are saying, that's the law of the case. Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Gay people can start to get married today.

Now, there may be some objection from supporters of Proposition 8, but given the way California is governed these days, with a governor like Jerry Brown, an attorney general like Kamala Harris, who are strong supporters of same-sex marriage, it seems very likely that same-sex marriages will resume immediately and never be stopped again.

HOLMES: I want to squeeze another question in on DOMA for you, Jeffrey. So what happens if you're married legally in a state that allows same-sex marriage and you live in a different state or you move to a different state? These federal benefits, do they go with you?

TOOBIN: The federal benefits almost certainly go with you, but one of the many complexities that is not resolved by this decision is, suppose you are two women who live in Massachusetts and you got married there. You move to Alabama, which doesn't have same-sex marriage. When you get divorced, who divorces you? When you want to deal with custody of the children that you shared in Massachusetts, how do you resolve that in a state that doesn't have same-sex marriage? All of these issues are working their way through the courts now.

And what's so remarkable about Justice Kennedy's opinion is that it's written in a very broad way. And it certainly gives the impression, it doesn't say this, but any sort of discrimination that puts gay people in one category and straight people in another is unconstitutional. That's the implication of his decision. The implication of his decision is that same-sex marriage has to come to the whole country. He didn't say that. And that has not yet been -- that's not the law of the land, but certainly there will be test cases brought in short order which may yet establish it.


HOLMES: Going to be a lot of loose ends to tie up.

Jeff, good to see you. Thanks so much. Jeffrey Toobin there.

MALVEAUX: And I think that's what makes it so complicated in some ways because it's still a patchwork of different states with different laws regarding same-sex marriage. I mean clearly this is a move in the direction equality, marriage equality. But there's still many different ways of different states and how they deal with it, whether or not it's legal or not legal.

HOLMES: I think Jeff's points are great. I mean they've got to work out what happens. If you're in a different state but you got married legally, do you have legal rights in a state that didn't allow legal marriage. It's - a lot of loose ends. MALVEAUX: Yes.


MALVEAUX: Much more coverage of the Supreme Court decisions up ahead.

Meantime, we're going to turn to other news.

The New England Patriots fired star tight end Aaron Hernandez today after police led him off in handcuffs. This is outside his home. This is in North Attleborough, Massachusetts.

HOLMES: Yes, amazing story. Investigators, of course, had been searching the area near Hernandez's home after the body of one of his good friends was found less than a mile away. Susan Candiotti joining us outside the courthouse there with the latest.

Susan, OK, taken away in handcuffs for what?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know exactly yet, Michael, because they haven't told us what the exact charge or charges are against New England Patriot eight end, a very popular player, Aaron Hernandez. But we can tell you this. Now that he has been charged in connection somehow with this ongoing murder investigation into the death of Odin Lloyd, the man whose body was found a half mile away from his house. Obviously it is a huge change for him. Down the road, what will his future be? And, of course, we have to think about the victim's family here as well.

But let's recap here. As you pointed out, there have been searches in the past. This happened more than eight days ago. Searches near Hernandez's house. The body was found less than a mile away. In fact, they have been to his house, Hernandez's house, twice. And, at one point a few days ago, carrying away several bags of undisclosed items. So he is now at the police department. He will shortly, we believe, be brought over here to the courthouse where he will face a very first appearance. And then we'll find out what the charge or charges are and whether he will qualify for bail.

MALVEAUX: Susan, it didn't take long for the New England Patriots to drop him. What are they saying? What is their explanation?

CANDIOTTI: Right, they dropped him. They released a statement. I'll read it to you in part. It says, "a young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. Words can't express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation."

And also, not long ago, we received a statement as well from the NFL, which caused the arrest of Aaron Hernandez, quote, "deeply troubling."

I also spoke with a relative of the victim here who said it's the first good news she has had since learning about her brother's murder last week.

Suzanne. MALVEAUX: All right, Susan Candiotti, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Obviously a story a lot of people are following that. A big mystery, as a matter of fact.

HOLMES: Absolutely. A big, big name in football.


HOLMES: Meanwhile, one of the most wanted men in the world may be simply relaxing after a very stressful week. How's that for a statement. It's what a spokesman for the group WikiLeaks says about Edward Snowden's current status.

MALVEAUX: So Russian authorities, they have confirmed that, of course, he is in a transit area of the Moscow airport between the arrival gates and the passport check points. Phil Black, he's at that airport.

And we have heard from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. He says, look, you know, they're not necessarily going to hand him over to the United States or anybody else. What is his fate?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the president's argument, if you like, seems to center on the fact that Russia and the United States do not have an extradition treaty or agreement. But President Putin's comments also went a little bit further than that when he's talking about precisely what's going on here. He made a comparison to the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, and he said that both men consider themselves to be defenders of human rights and he asked rhetorically, somewhat leadingly, if these are the sorts of people that should be extradited to be jailed.

Now, both Snowden and Assange are, of course, famous because they have openly made alleges about America's commitment to human rights. A very common theme in Russian politics. A very common message is that America is not as pure as it claims to be on human rights issues and it's often quite hypocritical when lecturing or criticizing other countries. Other countries including Russia, Suzanne.

HOLMES: Phil, you know, it brings to mind the case of (INAUDIBLE) Nasari (ph), who was stuck in the transit lounge in Paris for, I think, for eight years. He - now if Snowden wants to go to Ecuador or Iceland, how long can he hang around in the transit lounge?

BLACK: Well, that's not entirely clear at this stage, Michael. We've been told by some Russian officials that there is a time limit of 24 hours. Now, he's clearly exceeded that window if that is, in fact, true. So there seems no willingness on the part of Russia to kick him out, although Vladimir Putin has said that the sooner he goes, the better for him and the better for Russia. You get the feeling that Russia wishes this problem hadn't necessarily landed on its doorstep.

But the problem is, that there is no obvious escape for Snowden at this stage. It's a real logistical challenge for him to end up in one of his preferred countries. We've heard he applied for asylum in Ecuador. There's been talk of Iceland and so forth. These countries that he believes may be friendly to him and his cause are not easily accessible from Moscow. They were not necessarily direct flights. So he would face a reality where he would have to essentially skip across the globe from country to country where he believes there may be regimes that will not assist the United States in returning him to that country.

HOLMES: Right. OK. OK, Phil, appreciate that. Phil Black in our Moscow bureau.

You've got developments on the (INAUDIBLE)?

MALVEAUX: Yes. Edith Windsor, she is speaking now, the woman who challenged the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. Let's listen in.


EDITH WINDSOR, PLAINTIFF IN DOMA CASE: -- sued the United States of America over a tax bill. Because the answer's complex, I want to give you some of the background.

I lived with and loved Thea Spyer for more than four decades in love and joy, in sickness and in health, until death did us part. When Thea died in 2009 from a heart condition, two years after we were finally married, I was heartbroken. On a deeply personal level, I felt the stress and anguish that in the eyes of my government the woman I had loved and cared for and shared my life with was not my legal spouse but was considered to be a stranger with no relationship to me.

On a practical level due to DOMA, I was taxed $363,000 in federal estate tax that I would not have had to pay if I had been married to a man named Theo. Even if I had met Theo just immediately before, married him and never lived with him before he died, the tax would have been zero.

So overwhelmed with a sense of injustice and unfairness, I decided to bring the lawsuit against the government to get my money back.

I lucked out when Robbie Kaplan, a litigation partner at Paul, Weiss walked into my life. Paul, Weiss has a proud tradition of representing clients, including LGBT clients in a wide variety of pro bono matters.

One of those outstanding pro bono cases is Edith Windsor, that's me, versus United States of America.

At a time when the gay organizations approached said, it's the wrong time for the movement, Robbie Kaplan said, as did Martin Luther King before here, there is no wrong time to seek justice, answered my plea and took me on.

And this old lady flourished with the help of the large and superb Paul, Weiss team handling my case. Along with James Essex of the ACLU who joined us right up front and Pamela Karlan of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Robbie won historic victories for me, Windsor, in addition to, one, convincing the Obama administration to change its mind and no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA; two, persuading the district court, Judge Barbara Jones that there was no rational basis for DOMA and that it was unconstitutional; three. we won the first decision ever by a federal appellate court holding that laws like DOMA that discriminate against gay people should no longer be presumed to be constitutional and should be subject to heightened judicial scrutiny.

And, monumentally, Robbie Kaplan, our counsel of record, argued our case in the Supreme Court on March 27th this year. When she argued against DOMA, she was cool and calm and informed and reasoned, all of which were sustained by her deeply felt passion for equality in all of our lives.

And we won all the way, so thank you from the bottom of my heart, Robbie Kaplan and your partners at Paul, Weiss for making this all possible.

Thank you, James for coming in and ...


MALVEAUX: You've been listening to Edith Windsor. I had an opportunity actually to talk to her about a year ago.

HOLMES: Yeah, you did?

MALVEAUX: Yeah, and not only is this a victory for her because of the money, the $363,000, that she had to pay to the government that did not -- because they did not recognize her marriage of 42 years they were together at least, she said marriage is magical. It's a magical thing.

So it means so much to her on many different levels, not just financially but really all around, emotionally as well.

HOLMES: What is she, 83-years-old?

MALVEAUX: Eighty-three.

HOLMES: Incredible. Great day for her, that's for sure.

And there's reaction coming in from around the U.S. to the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

We're going to be hearing from both sides right here at CNN.

MALVEAUX: And there is a big development in the George Zimmerman trial. The judge decides that jurors can hear Zimmerman's previous 911 calls.

We're going to talk about what that means for the case.

HOLMES: And Paula Deen says, quote, "I is what I is and I'm not changing."

We're going to have more from this morning's controversial, not just for the grammar, interview.


MALVEAUX: We're actually hearing more riveting and often graphic, emotional testimony today. This is about the night that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin.

HOLMES: Yeah, jurors spent most of the morning listening to accounts from neighbors who saw part of the scuffle between Zimmerman and Martin.

George Howell joins us now from outside the court in Sanford, Florida. George, the testimony from the two women today, tell us about it.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael, Suzanne, yes, so these two women important to hear their testimony, especially from the prosecutor's, because they are relying on these witnesses to determine who was screaming for help on February 26th, the night of this fatal shooting with Trayvon Martin.

I want to talk about Jane Surdyka. She was the first witness who spoke today. She also spoke to this network weeks after that shooting to give her account of what happened.

She basically said this. She was in her bedroom, opened the window and she heard two distinct voices. And she saw two people on the ground.

With those voices, specifically, she said that she heard a more dominant, stronger voice and she also heard a softer voice, a voice that she believed that could be a young boy.

Listen to her 911 call.


JANE SURDYKA, WITNESS: And I'm looking out my window. That's my back yard. And someone is yelling and screaming, help. And I heard like a pop noise. And they're both still out there right now. I don't know what's going on.

911 OPERATOR: I can tell you right now you're not the only person that's calling me. We already have one officer on scene and another on the way.

SURDYKA: Oh, good. Oh, my gosh, I see the person right now. I see him like walking. There's a man coming up. I can see him coming up with a flashlight. Oh, my god. I don't know what he did to this person.


HOWELL: In cross-examination, the defense quickly pointed out to the court, though, that it's nearly impossible to determine who was screaming because, again, Surdyka did not see any of this. It's what she heard. She was an ear witness. Also, after that, we heard from Jeannee Manalo. Manalo is another person who heard things happening outside of her unit. She says that she heard a howling sound then she saw two people on the ground.

This is important. She believed that the bigger person was on top. She said that she believed that person was George Zimmerman.

But here's the other thing. Defense attorneys asked her, why did you think that? And she said it's because I saw the picture, early on, of Trayvon Martin, and she saw that picture of Trayvon Martin in his football uniform, a younger Trayvon Martin. I believe he was 14- years-old, a very different Trayvon Martin than on that day of February 26th, 2012.

Trayvon Martin weighed a little less than 180 pounds. George Zimmerman weighed 180 pounds. So Trayvon Martin was certainly taller, but the two were about the same weight.

MALVEAUX: And, George, the judge also ruled on those previous 911 calls that Zimmerman made to the police. She's going to allow the jurors to hear those tapes.

How significant is that?

HOWELL: That's really important for the prosecution because, again, the burden is on them to prove that concept of depraved mind here in Florida, that Zimmerman had a pattern, that he grew with frustration, and the day that he faced with Trayvon Martin that was the day that Martin would not get away. That's what they want to prove.

So with these five calls, you hear a pattern. You do hear that Zimmerman called several times to the non-emergency number. Each time he would report suspects either using the word black or African- American interchangeably.

And, again, the concept is he did it so many times, is this the time he snapped? That's what prosecutors want to try to prove here.

HOLMES: And, George, Trayvon Martin's girlfriend expected to take the stand today, obviously a key witness. Any idea on what we might hear?

HOWELL: Well, still uncertain whether she will exactly take the stand, though it is highly expected that she will.

This is a very important witness because, again, she was on the phone with Trayvon Martin, on the cell phone. The two were talking, and this is moments before the shooting.

So her account of what she heard, what she told Trayvon, what Trayvon told her, very significant to this case, very significant to the timeline. And it could prove to be crucial to the defense's case because it could contradict what George Zimmerman has to say.

MALVEAUX: All right. George, thank you so much, George Howell.

This is a fast moving trial, a lot of people watching those details ...

HOLMES: Sure is, already ripping through the ...

MALVEAUX: ... graphic, as well.

Coming up, Paula Deen making a tearful apology this morning. But is it going be enough? We'll have that debate, up next.