American Morning

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May 29th, 2009
06:15 AM ET

Activist judges

From Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

Politicians talk a lot about "judicial activism," but what does it really mean? The answer could be: whatever you want it to mean. The "activist judge" term is used so often and is so politically loaded some suggest you turn off the TV as soon as you hear it.

For Professor Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University, "this type of name calling is perfectly juvenile, it's simply saying that nobody could possibly disagree with my interpretation of the Constitution."

But those who use the phrase argue "activist judges" are dangerous – because they "legislate from the bench." Many Republicans have expressed concerns that a too-liberal court will pick and choose which laws it doesn't like and find a way to change their meaning or throw them out.

If that's the case, then how to explain the court under Chief Justices William Rehnquist and John Roberts. Both are conservative. And under their leadership, experts say the high court overturned about 65 state or federal laws. That's more than were overturned in the previous liberal-led court.

So is that bad? Good? Both?

"The curious thing is that yesterday's judicial activists are often today's judicial heroes," Turley adds.

In 1954, many accused "activist judges" of wrongly overturning state laws in Brown v. Board of Education – on the grounds school segregation violated the U.S. Constitution. Today, those judges aren't considered "evil activist judges," but wise men.

Some say the problem with the term "judicial activist" today is that it has evolved into something that has nothing to do with actively, impartially interpreting the law.

"Conservatives at the moment want to make sure that their views prevail on abortion, affirmative action, and religion in the public square question," says National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg.

"So when they talk about a judicial activist what they mean is somebody who agrees with them. When liberals talk about a judicial activist, what they mean is somebody who agrees with them. I don't think that in reality this term has any meaning other than rhetoric," Totenberg says.

In other words, those who say they don't want "activist judges" really do, if they support their beliefs. And, Turley says the term has become so politically charged, it affects who a president nominates.

"We have a system that largely relies on chance, because politically you don't want to appoint someone who could be accused of being a judicial activist," he says. "The tendency is to appoint someone whose never said or done anything particularly interesting in their career."

Filed under: Just Sayin'
May 29th, 2009
06:00 AM ET

What's on Tap – Friday, May 29, 2009

In this handout image provided by the White House, Judge Sonia Sotomayor speaks with President Obama in the Oval Office of the White House May 21, 2009 in Washington, D.C.
In this handout image provided by the White House, Judge Sonia Sotomayor speaks with President Obama in the Oval Office of the White House May 21, 2009 in Washington, D.C.

Happy Friday everyone.

A developing story out of North Korea – The North has reportedly test-fired another short range missile off its east coast. That's the sixth one this week. And this morning Defense Secretary Robert Gates is revealing whether more U.S. troops are headed to the region. We are live from the Pentagon with a report.

There are new questions about President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Pro-choice and pro-life groups are demanding to know where Sonia Sotomayor stands on abortion rights. The White House says the president never asked her. We'll explore whether the future of Roe v. Wade could hang in the balance.

And General Motors – on the brink of bankruptcy. Despite getting more than 19-billion of your tax dollars. So what does it all mean for you, Detroit, and the nation? We'll get some insights from somebody who knows.

Filed under: What's On Tap
May 28th, 2009
01:24 PM ET

How can I keep my toddler safe in the pool?

Dr. Gupta answers viewer questions every Thursday on CNN's "American Morning."

From Thespena in Crown Point, Indiana:

“My son is 3 this year and has outgrown the kiddie pool but I’m nervous about letting him swim in deeper water. I’ve heard toddlers can drown in water only a few inches deep. Is that true?”


Hi Thespena,

Thanks for asking this question. As a parent of three small children, I completely understand and share your apprehension. You want to do everything you can to keep your son safe, but at the same time to give him as many beautiful life experiences as possible, swimming being a great one (especially as we’re heading into summer).

You’re correct about the drowning hazards for toddlers. In fact, just one inch of water is enough for a toddler to drown in, according to Safe Kids USA Part of the reason is because their little bodies are top-heavy, so they have a harder time maintaining their balance and getting back up when they fall. Every year, more than 800 kids in the United States under age 14 die as a result of unintentional drowning. For your 3-year-old, his risk rate is double that of any other age group; children 4 and under actually have the single highest drowning death rate according to the National Safety Council.

But that doesn’t mean you have to keep your child out of the pool altogether. The number one thing you can do is to keep a close watch on what’s happening when your child is in the pool. Try to stay no more than an arms-length away. Unlike the way we see drownings depicted in the movies, there’s usually no prolonged flailing of arms and crying out – sadly, it’s usually very quick and quiet, so you can’t just rely on being in earshot. You have to keep your eyes on your son at all times.

Also, don’t rely on floats or any other swimming aid to keep your child safe because those are not meant to replace your own supervision and can give parents a false sense of security. When you feel he’s ready, you should start taking your son to swimming lessons. It’s a great source of exercise and fun for kids, and the sooner he becomes comfortable and skilled in the water, the safer he’ll be as he grows older.

Keep reading this story

Filed under: Dr. Gupta's Mailbag
May 28th, 2009
12:27 PM ET

Gay soldier appeals to Obama

Some of the demonstrators President Obama heard while in Los Angeles yesterday were demanding he make good on a campaign promise to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. You met the gay soldier who's leading the movement for change on "American Morning," and as CNN's Ted Rowlands tells us, he was there trying to get some face-time with the president.

Filed under: Gay Rights • Military
May 28th, 2009
12:16 PM ET

General Mandarin?

Longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader tells CNN the potential GM bankruptcy could put the car maker on the fast track to China. GM is already vying to become the number auto builder in the communist nation. Now GM has plans to expand its operations in China with hopes of importing cars back into the US.

Filed under: Business
May 28th, 2009
10:43 AM ET

Obama making Mideast peace a top priority

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Aaron David Miller tells CNN the Middle East peace process is going to be like a thousand days of root canals."]

President Obama is back in Washington today after a west coast tour. He is sitting down with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, trying to move forward with his Middle East peace plan.

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to endorse a two-state solution during his visit to Washington. So is this part of the president's plan or is it dead in the water?

Aaron David Miller is a former Middle East negotiator and the author of "The Much Too Promised Land." He spoke to Rob Marciano on CNN’s “American Morning” Thurs

Rob Marciano: Give us the Palestinian and Israel cliff notes here. A 101 version of where the U.S. stands in their policy with that part of the Middle East.

Aaron David Miller: I think the reality is the Obama administration has decided to make this a top priority. I wasn't sure at first but there’s no question about it now. Governing is about choosing. It’s about trying to decide what’s important and what isn't. And the Obama administration has taken some important steps – appointing George Mitchell, changing their tone, early visits to Washington, the president's speech in Cairo. There’s no question they are going to seriously test the possibility that within the first or maybe second term, the administration can…help the Israeli and Palestinians reach an agreement.

Marciano: Arguably, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't have the power he once had and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may be in a similar situation. What does the president hope to accomplish with this meeting this week?

Miller: Well, he is going to sit down with a very pleasing, but largely powerless Palestinian president, really representing a kind of Palestinian “Humpy Dumpty.” Abbas, who represents Fatah, has the incentive to make peace with the Israelis but not the power. Hamas, on the other hand, has plenty of power but they lack the incentive. And this conundrum, this real problem is the one that the Obama administration is going to confront.

In today's meeting there will be three people in the room. There will be the president and there will be the Palestinian president and there is also going to be Benjamin Netanyahu. He won't be there in body but he'll be there in spirit. Because almost everything turns now, I suspect, on whether the administration can induce the Israelis to do things. And there's a sort of cruel asymmetry here. Very little will be expected from Mahmoud Abbas, because he's not capable of giving much. Much will be expected of the Israelis and you really are going to end up, I suspect, with a test of wills sooner rather than later.


Filed under: Middle East
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