'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Read the transcript to the Tuesday show
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Guests: Dahlia Lithwick, Bryan Stevenson, Mike Allen
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thanks, man.
ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
This is how America learned. This is how we all learned who won the
presidential election in the year 2000. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: NBC`s Dan Abrams and Pete Williams are
just outside and they are reading the ruling even as we go to them.
Pete, what do we know? Is this a split decision?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it would appear to be
so, Tom. It`s what`s described as a percurian opinion, which means it`s
not signed by any single justice.
The senior justice dissenting here, Justice John Paul Stephens, I
think, leaves little doubt that there`s no room for a recount. So does
Justice David Souter. Justice Souter says, we think he`s talking about
what could have happened.
BROKAW: If there`s no room for a recount, this election is over for
Vice President Al Gore. All his political aides and his closest legal
advisers were saying if they lose on the recount question, it`s over.
WILLIAMS: I see nothing that in any way that`s incompatible with
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And that was how it ended. The presidential election in the
year 2000 was decided not in November, but in December of that year, more
than a month after the election and it was decided at the courthouse.
On election night, which had been 35 days before you just saw Pete
Williams on the courthouse steps there, 35 days earlier, every other state
in the Union had turned in a definitive election result. But in Florida,
it had been chaos.
The state of Florida said that George W. Bush had won, maybe. The
state`s top election official at least who was working for the George W.
Bush campaign said it sure to look to her like George W. Bush had won.
Ultimately, after recounts, after the Republican so called Brooks Brother
riot to interfere with recounts, after the lawsuit that went all the way to
the Supreme Court, ultimately what got recorded as the final result in
Florida was George W. Bush winning the state by 537 votes. That`s it.
A nonpartisan independent count of all the votes cast statewide in
Florida in that election found that Al Gore actually got more votes. The
independent, nonpartisan count of all the ballots cast statewide gave
George W. Bush somewhere between 60 and 171 fewer votes than Al Gore.
But instead of that count becoming the results of America`s Florida
election that year and therefore America`s presidential election, that
result inside just became a footnote to the presidency of George W. Bush.
We don`t talk about it much anymore. I`m not sure how clear it is
whether or not America is at peace with that election result in 2000. It
sort of overtook us very quickly there after. But if you personally are
not at peace with it, even if you are one of the people who thinks that
George W. Bush stole Florida in 2000 and therefore stole the presidency, it
is clear in hindsight and it was clear at the time that Florida could not
have been stolen -- if you believe it was stolen -- Florida could not have
even been stolen had the voting result in Florida not been so close.
I don`t say that to relitigate the last 12 years of American partisan
politics, but rather to just underscore how close it was, that one really
important number. The number of votes between these two guys and the
official tally in Florida, 537 votes.
When Florida Republicans took over the whole state government and
state legislature in 2010, they changed Florida law to make it much more
difficult to vote in Florida and much more difficult to register to vote
there. Last week, the group Rock the Vote launched the register young
people to vote all over the country.
Rock the Vote is very mainstream, very nonpartisan. A number of
Republicans went to a Rock the Vote event on the day of the Iowa caucuses
this year to try to get to young people to turn out to vote. And the
Republican caucuses in Iowa.
But this year, the Rock the Vote voter registration efforts are going
to be kicking off everywhere in the country except for the state of
Florida, and that`s because of Florida`s new voting law. The law makes it
a criminal offense with huge penalties to do standard regular old voter
registration drives that have always been done in that state and everywhere
else. It makes it so legally difficult to do them without running a foul
of the law that the people whom do voter registration drives feel like they
cannot do it without putting themselves in criminal jeopardy.
Since that new law went into effect, the League of Women Voters has
stopped registering voters in Florida altogether even though they done it
there for decades. One local chapter of the NAACP was just threatened with
prosecution by the state of Florida for the crime of collecting voter
registration forms on the Sunday of Martin Luther King Day weekend. They
got people to sign up to register to vote on the Sunday of that three-day
weekend and turned in the forms to the state, the first day state offices
were open after the holiday. So, on Tuesday.
And that apparently was an illegal delay and earned them the threat of
prosecution for having done that horrible thing.
We`ve covered the story before of high school teachers in Florida
being threatened by the state for the crime of registering high school
seniors to vote. That made for a rather more awesome than usual piece on
"The Colbert Report" recently.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is the town of Pace, Florida, and these
are the children of Pace. They`re innocence lost at the hands offense
their own teacher, a teacher who crossed the line and betrayed their trust.
Dawn Quarles, who lured them into committing an unspeakable act they were
too young to understand.
DAWN QUARLES, TEACHER: I am being fined by the state of Florida for
registering kids to vote.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some as young as 17 and so impressionable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I wonder what the stage direction that gave to that kid was.
Can you please look glassy eyed and tilt.
That is how fraught with peril the basic task of registering people to
vote is in Florida now. Today, "The New York Times" released an analysis
of the effect in Florida of the Republican`s new voter suppression law
there and it`s kind of amazing. Look at this.
In the months since the new law took effect in July, more than 81,000
fewer Floridians, 81,471 fewer Floridians have registered to vote than
during the same period before the `08 presidential election. More than
81,000 fewer people have registered to vote this year than in the last
presidential election in Florida -- thanks to Florida Republicans new law
that makes it harder to register to vote. That`s what local elections
officials told "The Times" they thought was responsible for the huge drop-
off in new voters. They think it`s the new law and the fact that there`s no
voter registration drives anymore. They have essentially been made illegal
In the last election, here is how new voters, first time voters broke
down between Barack Obama and John McCain in Florida. Barack Obama won
that group by 19 points. And now this year in Florida, thanks in part to
the Republican voter suppression law, there will be 81,000 fewer of these
voters and that`s by now, by the end of March.
Might those kind of numbers make a difference as to who is elected
president this time around?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I, George Walker Bush, do
solemnly swear --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In 2000, it was 537 votes -- 537 votes and then, of course,
thanks to how close it was. Also, the even smaller number of votes that
really counted in that election, and that, of course, was five votes. The
5-4 Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision which turned that close election,
partisan mess in Florida into the presidency of George W. Bush.
And that was a stunning decision, right? I mean, all the liberals
voted for the Gore side. All the conservatives of the court voted for the
Bush side. George W. Bush became president. And there were more
conservatives in the court than there were liberals, so George W. Bush
The court was so self-conscious about the spuriousness of its own
legal reasoning in Bush v. Gore that the ruling said it could not be cited
in future cases. That it was not precedent. In other words, we`re not
making law here, we just want George W. Bush to be president, OK?
The Bush v. Gore 5-4 decision probably did mortal damage to the idea
that capital C conservative justices would act in small C conservative
ways. They were perfectly happy to take what was pretty radical, legal
action to depart wildly from legal precedent as long as it achieved a
political aim that they wanted.
And if that idea of small C conservatism from capital C conservative
justices was an entirely dead after Bush v. Gore, it got dug up and killed
again in one of the court`s next most high profile cases in Citizens
United, where another 5-4 conservative majority on the court went so far
out on a limb in terms of legal precedent that I think they actually might
have had to jump onto another tree in order to stay aloft, in order to
justify a radical legal remaking of corporations into people, and of anti-
bribery and clean elections laws into (INAUDIBLE).
That was the last time the court bowed to public interest in what they
were doing by releasing audio of the oral arguments on the case on the same
day those arguments were actually made in court.
Since Citizens United, the Supreme Court hasn`t released audio that
quickly again until this week, until the health reform arguments that have
been taken up by the court.
Here is what some of what the Supreme Court argued over today during
day of those arguments.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER: All that sounds like you`re debating the
merits of the bill. You ask really for limiting principles so we don`t get
into a matter that I think has nothing to do with this case, broccoli. OK?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Broccoli. It was Justice Stephen Breyer trying to put a stop
to all the broccoli talk today in the oral argument at the Supreme Court.
Dahlia Lithwick said on our air last night that she would be playing a
broccoli drinking game at the Supreme Court today where every time somebody
said broccoli in these arguments, you`d have to drink. So, we will have to
see what sort of shape Dahlia is in after broccoli was brought up eight
times in the oral arguments, just as she were (INAUDIBLE).
But here`s the overall political context for this big high profile
case, right? Heading into this big high profile, very partisan inflected
court case on this big achievement of Barack Obama`s first term in office,
Bloomberg News polled Americans last week on how Americans thought the
justices would go about deciding this case.
Eight percent of Americans said they weren`t sure how justice would
decided this, 17 percent said the justices would decide this case solely on
its legal merits, and 75 percent said they thought the justices own
politics would influence how they ruled on this case -- 75 percent.
In other words, after Bush v. Gore, after Citizens United, we don`t
expect much as a country anymore from the Supreme Court. We do not expect
they are out there neutral, calling balls and strikes fairly, making
nonpartisan, objective legal judgments.
If you go by what people tell pollsters, we think they are partisans,
at least we think the majority of the court is a partisan body that will do
anything to help politicians who are on their side and to hurt politicians
who are on other sides.
One bus load of anti-health reform protesters arrived today from the
Koch brothers funded Americans for Prosperity group. When they turned up
in Washington, D.C. at the court today, it was hard not to connect that to
Justice Clarence Thomas, hearing that anti-health reform case today, even
though he previously appeared as a featured speaker for the group that
bankrolls these health reforms is unconstitutional busses, this protest
Clarence Thomas appeared at one of the Koch brother`s secret
fundraising conclaves as a special guest back in 2008.
On the day that the Supreme Court decided to take this case, Justice
Thomas and Justice Scalia were honored at an event held by the law firm
that`s arguing the anti-health reform case before the court today. Justice
Thomas had to change his financial disclosure forms to reflect the fact
that his wife has been a paid health reform is unconstitutional activist
for a wacky Tea Party group that she founded which among other things had
very amazing headwear.
And so, today, at the conservative justices on the court, all in oral
arguments tipped their hand, at least seem to tip their hand in questioning
to make it seem like they really do want to overturn health reform, the
signature achievement of Barack Obama`s first terms as president.
I think the short sided question -- I think the question that is maybe
so shortsighted that it is the wrong question to ask is how might a ruling
against the president`s health reform law affect the Obama presidency and
this president`s chances at re-election. I think that is a shortsighted
question and maybe not the right question to ask.
Frankly, no matter whether they uphold this law or not, it`s not like
conservatives are going to decide they like health reform. Conservatives
are still going to say they hate it. I`m not sure it`s going to affect
that much at all.
The bigger question here, bigger in terms of its importance for not
just what`s not going in partisan politics right now for our system of
government and faith in it, it`s not about how a ruling from the Supreme
Court on this law will affect perception of this one precedent. The bigger
and more question, the more farsighted question is how this ruling could
affect perceptions of this Supreme Court as an institution.
And do they even care?
Joining us once again is Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal
correspondent for "Slate" magazine. Dahlia watched today`s proceedings at
the Supreme Court.
Dahlia, thank you very much for being here. It`s good to have you
DAHLIA LITHWICK, SLATE.COM: Thank you for having me back.
MADDOW: Did you smuggle in flask and drink every time they said
broccoli today? Are you drunk?
LITHWICK: There was a brief discussion. You can`t actually smuggle
in anything. They take everything off you. You can get cough drops in,
Rachel. There was a brief discussion of inventing a martini cough drop for
tomorrow. Stay tuned.
MADDOW: Do you share the belief widely voiced today by court
watchers, by people who are listening to that argument, as you were today,
that the justices seemed like they are going to rule the heart of health
reform, at least the heart of this legal case, the individual mandate in
health reform unconstitutional? Did it seem that way to you?
LITHWICK: I`m not sure. I think the first voices out of the court
said, not incorrectly, this did not go well for Solicitor General Don
Verrilli. He really got thumped in the first hour. It appeared that
certainly four of the conservative justices had kind of made up their minds
and that Justice Kennedy who is that central vote that everybody is
watching was awfully edgy about the individual mandate. So, I think it
didn`t look good.
I will say two things, in response to that, watching the second hour,
it wasn`t nearly as clear that Justice Kennedy was only uncomfortable with
the government side. He asked some pretty pointed questions at the end of
the second hour of the challengers and certainly gave some intimation that
he understood that the health care market is different from the broccoli
But I think the more important point is what happened in oral argument
particularly in a case like this isn`t the whole story, Rachel. What`s
going to happen in Friday at conference is going to be part of the story
and even more importantly in looping back to your opening there, what the
justices are thinking or justices like I think Anthony Kennedy and Chief
Justice John Roberts are thinking is how does this impact the court to hand
down another 5-4 Citizens United in an election year.
And I don`t think it`s just a slam dunk certainly for those two
justices to pull the trigger on that.
MADDOW: What sort of -- what do you watch for? What sort of evidence
do you look for to determine what justices who are have a lifetime
appointment, who don`t have to speak to anybody who they don`t want to, who
often don`t speak in public, what do you look to determine whether or not
they care about their own perceived legitimacy? I mean, that`s 75 percent
of people expecting a partisan ruling here was a shocking number. But how
do we know whether or not that bothers them?
LITHWICK: Well, I think we know it matters because each and every
time they go out into a public space, they say look at all our 8-1
decisions. Don`t look at our 5-4. Look at the ways we agree.
The chief justice gave a state of the judiciary speech in January
where he said don`t think about how Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan need to
recuse. They are impartial. They are fair. Justice Breyer, Stephen
Breyer wrote a whole book about how he understands the entire legitimacy of
the judicial branch rests in the public trust.
So, they say it. They do say it. And each of the justices across the
spectrum from Scalia to Breyer say it loud and over and over again.
But you see something like today where it really looks like maybe
that`s just talk and you think, they act like they are anxious about how we
feel about them and then they do something like Bush v. Gore. And it`s not
really clear -- do they think we just don`t notice Bush v. Gore, or do they
think that we believe the words and not the action? That`s the tricky
MADDOW: Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for
"Slate" magazine, through whom I have been observing the court today,
except when we can actually get in and watch it ourselves, we got to rely
on the eyewitness testimony from you. Dahlia, thank very much. I really
LITHWICK: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Tyler Durden and fight club making entrance in 2012 politics
today. That is a very weird story. That`s still ahead.
MADDOW: So, here is something awkward in Republican Party politics
today. Republicans are exciting today because it seems like their
arguments against health reform had a great day in the Supreme Court today.
They continue to make the arguments inside the courtroom but outside the
courtroom, on the Supreme Court steps, for example, basically anywhere
there`s a camera.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: We`re just begging the federal
government to leave us a shred of freedom. Please don`t make us buy a
product that we don`t want to buy. Is that asking too much?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin speaking
outside the court yesterday about how wrong it would be for the government
to make people buy insurance. Making you buy health insurance, if you
don`t want it, that`s like taking way your last shred of freedom, so says
Republican Senator Ron Johnson.
Here`s what`s awkward about that. About 100 miles south of where
Senator Johnson was standing, Republicans in another capital, in the state
capital of Virginia, were doing exactly what Senator Johnson was inveighing
against outside the Supreme Court.
Amid a series of protest against the move, Republicans in Virginia
have succeeded in passing a law whereby the state will force you to have a
medical procedure. The state government overriding the judgment of your
doctor and forcing you to have a procedure done to you even if you do not
If forcing you to buy health insurance is tantamount to taking away
your last shred of freedom, there`s real question of where state mandated
medical procedures fall on the Republican 2012 number line of government
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed Virginia`s forced ultrasound
bill into law weeks ago, that`s why everybody calls him government
ultrasound now. But this week, Republicans in the state Senate in Virginia
considered whether women are also going to be forced by the state to pay
for this ultrasound they don`t want to have. Whether to turn an unfunded
mandate like Senator Ron Johnson was just yelling about, whether to turn an
unfunded mandate into at least a funded mandate for Virginia women -- and
they decided not to do that.
Republicans in the Virginia state Senate decided they`d be cool with
forcing women to have a medical procedure and forcing them to pay for it.
An amendment to the state budget that would require insurers to cover the
costs of these ultrasounds and the state to pay for women without insurance
failed yesterday in the Virginia Senate on a nearly party line vote.
Over in the great state of Idaho Republicans in the legislature there
have now officially abandoned their own forced ultrasound bill. A
Republican committee chair in the House confirming today to the "Spokesman
Review" newspaper that Idaho`s forced ultrasound bill is dead for the year.
And explaining why the Republicans decided to let the bill die in the
house after it already passed the Senate, this committee chairman told "The
Spokesman-Review," quote, "The big problem that`s been identified is the
mandatory ultrasound. The whole issue was clouded because of the mandatory
procedure. The whole issue wasn`t clouded by the mandatory procedure."
The whole issue wasn`t clouded by the mandatory procedure. The whole
issue was the mandatory procedure. That`s why people were upset at the
government saying you have to have this procedure. That was the problem.
Idaho Republicans wanted to mandate a medical procedure for women and
Idaho women did not want that. That was not a distraction. That was the
One Idaho Republican telling the "Associated Press," he sent out 15
letters to women, polling them on the forced ultrasound bill. Twelve of
them replied. One of those 12 supported the measure.
In Florida, Republican leaders in the legislature there we`re trying
to cram a whole bunch of anti-abortion measures that they weren`t able to
pass last year until one giant omnibus anti-abortion bill. Opponents call
it the omnibus anti-choice bill. That bill passed the Florida house only
to be killed in the Florida state Senate this month on what was a
One of six Republicans who voted to kill the omnibus bill telling the
"Miami Herald," quote, "The public is calling and screaming, pleading with
us to concentrate on bills that give us jobs, put food on our table and
lower our cost of living."
Over in Georgia, where Democratic women senators walked out of session
a couple of weeks ago to protest the focus on anti-abortion bills and anti-
birth control bills in that legislature. Yes, another anti-abortion bill,
one that would ban most abortions at 20 weeks, based on disputed science
regarding fetal pain, that bill is newly imperiled this week. The abortion
ban was just passed by the Senate. Under the original bill, doctors who
violated the ban would face felony charges carrying up to a 10-year prison
Opponents of the bill argue that it would force women to carry to term
fetuses that would be stillborn because of medical problems.
So, after the House passed the bill, the Senate saw fit to amends it.
The Georgia Senate made a change that would allow women to get an abortion
after the 20-week cutoff. If the doctor determined the fetus had a fatal
But because of those changes, the future of the bill is uncertain.
Allies of the bill sponsors urged Georgia senators to vote down those
changes, to vote against an exception for women carrying babies with fatal
defects. And now, because of that, the whole thing may fall apart, because
House Republicans in Georgia want to be able to regulate the pregnancies of
women carrying babies with fatal defects.
You don`t get to decide that, the Georgia legislature decides that?
What was that the Republicans war saying at the Supreme Court yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: Don`t make us buy a product that we don`t want to buy. Is
that asking too much?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the government can tell people that, where`s
the line of what they couldn`t tell people?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Right. I know that health reform politics gets covered as a
mainstream partisan thing and the fight over reproductive rights, abortion
access and contraception in the states is treated as sort of a ladies
thing, sort of a side bar issue.
But this is where they come together. Republicans are against the
government forcing you to buy health insurance. Republicans say they want
to government out of the health care business. Republicans don`t want
government telling people what to do when it comes to their health. That`s
a very awkward message to be trying to peddle in Washington, D.C, when
Republicans and state legislators all across the country are striving to
achieve complete government regulation down to very specific medical
procedures of every pregnancy in their jurisdiction.
MADDOW: I`m about to show you a short but powerful clip from man
named Bryan Stevenson. Now, as powerful as this maybe, out of context,
stay tuned after I play this so I can give you the context. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRYAN STEVENSON: We will ultimately not be judged by our technology.
We won`t be judged by our design. We won`t be judged by our intellect and
reason. Ultimately, you judge the character of a society not by how they
treat their rich and the powerful and the privileged, but how they treat
the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated. It`s in that nexus that we
actually begin to understand truly profound things about who we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Heavy duty in any context, right? But think about this --
Bryan Stevenson presented that idea that we won`t be judged by our
technology, or design, intellect or reason. But by how we treat the less
powerful among us. He presented that idea at the TED Conference.
The TED Conference, a really famous annual event that`s all about
technology, design, intellect and reason. And when he was through making
that case, people who were there said that Bryan Stevenson received the
largest ovation ever in the 28-year history of the TED Conference.
Thank you to Ted for allowing us to air that clip.
I should say personally that Bryan Stevenson had a big impact on me in
my former life when I was an activist working to improve prison conditions.
You know, the kind of training everybody does before they get into cable
news. But today, Bryan Stevenson here for the interview fresh off his
argument this past week before the Supreme Court.
Please stay tuned.
MADDOW: Number one, China. Number two, Iran. Number three, Saudi
Arabia. Number four, Iraq. And number five, the United States of America
-- USA, USA.
They`re not very many lists on which we come fifth after Iran and Iraq
but that`s because the lists of which countries are killing the largest
number of their prisoners, that list only comes out once a year. Today is
the day the China is first. Then it`s the Saudis and Iran and Iraq and us.
It`s difficult company, right?
In all of Europe and all of the countries that used to be the Soviet
Union, the only country that executed anyone last year was Belarus. We`re
the only country in the whole G-8, all the biggest industrialized economies
in the world who executed anyone last year.
Japan is in G-8. I has the death penalty on its books, but Japan
didn`t use it last year, didn`t kill any of its prisoners.
We did. We did that 43 times last year. But here`s the thing, the
number is actually going down for us. We may be the only modern
industrialized nation in the world that still regularly goes into our
prison cells, takes people who are already incarcerated out of those cells,
and then kills them as quietly as possible.
We may be the last industrialized country in the world that is doing
that but we are doing that less. We killed 46 times in 2010 and 43 time
last year. That`s the direction that things are going for us in this
field, generally speaking.
The state of Illinois banned the death penalty last year. Oregon`s
governor adopted a moratorium on killing prisoners there.
"The Associate Press" quotes Amnesty International today saying that
Maryland and Connecticut may be close to banning executions as well. There
may be a ballot measure this November for California to decide whether it
wants to get rid of its death penalty.
After generation of which sentencing laws only went one direction in
America, they only went up. A newfound shyness about the fallibility of
those who pass judgment, plus fiscal concerns, I have to think just sheer
wonderment at the internationally unprecedented scale of the prison and
jail system we Americans have built for ourselves over the past couple of
decades -- all of these things have combined to push things in a different
direction over the past few years.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for us
to kill juveniles, to put you to death for a crime that you committed when
you were a kid. Then in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that you also could
not get a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a crime
you committed as a kid unless the crime was murder.
And now, in the shadow of this much more high profile partisan circus
of case at the Supreme Court, this case about health reform, now, the
Supreme Court is set to decide whether it is constitutional to ever
sentenced you to life in prison without the possibility of parole if you
committed that crime when you were a kid, before you were 18, even if the
crime was murder.
If it`s not OK to execute someone for a crime they committed before
they reach adulthood, is it ever OK to say to that someone because there`s
something you did as a teenager, or younger, you will be locked up for the
rest of your life with no chance of ever being released ever, and you will
live your entire adulthood behind bars and be locked up inside the prison?
Is that constitutional?
The attorney who the last of these Supreme Court cases and who has
just argued the current one is Alabama`s Bryan Stevenson.
Bryan Stevenson joins us tonight for the interview. In addition to
being a frequent speaker before the highest court in the country, Mr.
Stevenson is also the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice
Initiative in Alabama.
Bryan Stevenson, thank you so much for joining us tonight. It`s nice
to have you here.
STEVENSON: It`s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Bryan, the idea of kids in prison until they die sounds like
a strange thing for a modern industrialized nation to commit to, but 39
Americans state do this. When you talk to people about this nationally,
when you talk about your Supreme Court case and this is a broader issue, do
you find that there is incredulity that we even do this?
STEVENSON: No, I do. I think until very recently no one had a clue
that we had children in this country, some as young as 13 years of age who
that have been sentenced to die in prison. And one of the challenges of
the death penalty is that it frequently obscures other issues of severe and
And I think this is one of them. While we were still executing
children, we couldn`t really talk about or consider death in prison
sentences. So, I think it`s a shock to many people that we send children,
9 and 10, to adult prisons and that some of those kids, 13 and 14, get
sentenced to death in prison.
MADDOW: When you advocate and when you brought this case as far as
the Supreme Court, when you`ve talked about it around the country, do you
get push back from people who say you are not taking seriously the gravity
of the crimes that these young people have committed in order to earn a
sentence this tough?
STEVENSON: Well, I think our political discourse around these kinds
of issues are just general conversation has been corrupted by decades of
the politics of fear and anger. And what that has meant is there`s been
very little space to actually talk about these issues in a reasonable way.
And so, yes, they are frequently times when people say but someone has
committed terrible crime. That`s the end of the conversation.
And what we try to engage people around is the fact that our criminal
justice system is designed to punish and protect public safety but it has
to be just. It has to have some integrity. It has to have some
credibility. And we don`t see very much of that.
And because of that, we`ve got to talk about these other issues. I am
quite sensitive to the victimization that crime is creating. If I actually
had to idea a community of people that are suffering violence and
victimization unlike any other, it would actually be many of the clients
that I represent.
I mean, these children are survivors of sexual abuse and physical
abuse and violence and they had sibling and parents murdered and raped and
assaulted. So, they know a lot about victimization -- and so do we.
And so, I do try to get people to appreciate we`re not trying to be
insensitive to that. We`re trying to be responsible in the face of that.
I don`t think the sentences that we`ve been imposed have been responsible
MADDOW: Do you see a larger arc in legal thinking that would connect
the two cases that I described in the introduction, that have limited the
sorts of sentences that juveniles susceptible to in this country. And we
decided first that they could not be executed for crimes committed before
crimes before age of 18. And second, that except in the case of murder,
life without parole was inappropriate sentence for people that committed
crimes before the age of 18.
You`re now trying to change that to make that include murder. Do you
see a larger -- a change in legal reasoning that explains those two
previous precedents for what you argued this week with the court?
STEVENSON: I do. I think we are becoming a little more sensitive to
vulnerability, to child status in this particular instance. Children are
different than adults. We recognize that in every area of the law except
in the criminal justice system. We don`t let them drive, we don`t let them
drink, we don`t let them vote. We don`t let them do a whole host of
We impose harsher punishments on people who victimized them. We deny
them privileges that we extend to adults. So, we`ve always recognized that
children are different. We just haven`t done it in the criminal justice
context in a way that`s reflected in our sentences.
So, I do think that that`s one of arcs. We`ve certainly been trying
to be more vocal about our most vulnerable people, our marginalized people,
children -- the people with mental illness, the mentally disabled.
And so, I think that`s part of it. I think the other part is that we
are being forced to be more sober about our sentencing policies because of
the cost with 2.3 million people in jails and prisons with states having to
remove money from education and public benefits and services and redirect
to jails and prisons, I think there is an openness to talking about
punishment in ways that we haven`t talked about previously.
And I guess the final thing I would mention is I think we`re being
forced to be a little more honest. You talked about the death penalty.
And I think we`re increasingly having to confront the fact that the death
penalty in the country isn`t a question that should be answered by simply
asking do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit? I think we
have to ask, do we deserve to kill?
And if our system is flawed, if our system is discriminatory, if our
system is unequal with regard to class and economic status, if our system
permits innocent people to be wrongly convicted and condemned, and then I
think we`re going to get to a different answer than we might otherwise get.
I think there`s space to have that conversation, ways that there
wasn`t maybe 10, 20, 30 years ago.
MADDOW: Bryan Stevenson, funder and executive director of the Equal
Justice Initiative, who -- you`ve been doing yeoman`s work in this field
for a very long time, and to see your increase national profile not just in
the legal community but among people who don`t think they care about these
issues but are starting to care because of you, I want to say
congratulations. Thanks for being with us, Bryan.
STEVENSON: Well, thank you. My pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. Right after this show, on "THE LAST WORD,"
Lawrence O`Donnell has a special guest, me. We`re going to be talking
about this new book that comes out today. It`s called "Drift." We`ll also
talk about Mitt Romney`s campaign saber-rattling. Very exciting to be on
with Lawrence. Stick around for that. That`s right after this.
And here, a secret plan to defeat President Obama using soap made from
liposuction human fat, kind of. That`s next.
MADDOW: Here is the thing about fight club that people tend to
forget. In fight club, the central character, the hero, the anti-hero is
Tyler Durden. He`s a traveling soap salesman. And the thing people forget
is that the soap he is selling is made from human fat harvested during
The big 2012 news today, Karl Rove thinks he`s that guy. In 2010
elections, Karl Rove organized a coalition of conservative groups to
coordinate their campaign spending to better target congressional
Democrats. He called this coordinated group the Weaver Terrace Group after
the address where they held their meetings.
Well, today, Politico.com reports that Mr. Rove is trying to get the
old gang back together, reportedly for a meeting this week. And when
"Politico`s" reporter started calling to find out who was going to be going
to that meeting, the communications director for Rove`s group sent out this
e-mail warning the people in this group not to talk. Quote, "For those of
you who don`t remember the rules of the road, a pop culture reference
And then he inserts a link to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRAD PITT, ACTOR: The first rule of fight club is, you don`t talk
about fight club. The second rule of fight club is, you don`t talk about
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Karl Rove thinks he`s Tyler Durden. Karl Rove thinks he`s
the liposuction-derived, human fat-based soap salesman from "Fight Club."
Aside from that little coffee out the nose window into Karl Rove`s
soul, the takeaway here, of course, is that no matter how fractured and
fractious and dissatisfied the Republican Party may be this year over their
nominating process and their eventual nominee, Mr. Rove is still the guy
doing all the soap selling to finance the Republican campaign. We are told
to expect him to be controlling hundreds of millions of dollars all aimed
at destroying the Barack Obama presidency and ending his second-term hopes.
The money on the establishment side of Republican politics is no less
daunting in the primary than it will be in the general. Next Tuesday,
there are three presidential primaries. In Washington, D.C., where Rick
Santorum is not even on the ballot; in Maryland where Romney is expected to
have an easy night; and the big one, Wisconsin. Common wisdom says that
Rick Santorum kind of has to win Wisconsin in order to stay in this thing.
And so, as of today, Mr. Santorum is being outspent in Wisconsin,
advertising roughly 10-1. Between the Romney campaign itself and the
affiliated Romney super PAC, they`re at over 3 million Romney bucks in
Wisconsin advertising. That`s versus a little over 300,000 Santorum
For his part, Mr. Santorum is starting to sound like he realizes that
winning may not be the only option for him this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he for some reason asks you to be the vice
presidential candidate on his ticket, I know after all said and done, would
you even consider it? Would you consider it?
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, look, I would do,
in this race, as I always say, this is the most important race in our
country`s history. And so I`m going to do everything I can.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you`re keeping your options open?
SANTORUM: I`ll do whatever is necessary to help our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: See, usually you say I`m running for president, not for vice
president. He could be my vice president if that`s what you mean. That`s
what you usually say, unless you`re not in the running for president
Likewise, Newt Gingrich got the same question on FOX News yesterday
and gave a similar, "Sure, I`d consider it" answer. Those might be the
strongest indicators yet that this race for the Republican nomination is
But there`s one last mystery item tonight in 2012 news, a weird little
story out of southern California. A crime story. A couple of Romney
campaign laptops containing reportedly detailed information about the
Romney campaign have been stolen. Stolen out of a rental car parked in San
Diego this past weekend.
Local police are saying that they do not know if this was just a
random theft or if it could have been a targeted hit to steal information
from the Romney campaign. As I said, a strange story, a crime story
related to the 2012 campaign.
We will keep you posted on that one as we learn more, and we will be
MADDOW: Breaking news that has just been posted by Politico.com that
could be a very big deal for the 2012 race. It looks at least from the
surface of this story that Newt Gingrich may be rolling things up. The
headline at Politico right now, "Gingrich cuts staff and aims at Tampa."
Tampa, of course, the Republican convention.
The lead, this is reported by Mike Allen at "Politico". "Newt
Gingrich is cutting back his campaign schedule, will lay off about a third
of his cash-strapped campaign`s full-time staff and has replaced his
manager as part of what aides are calling a big-choice convention
strategy." We`ll explain that strategy in just a moment.
The background here is that the Newt Gingrich campaign has been a bit
of an odd duck in terms of its staffing. One of the really weird things
about the Gingrich campaign is when you look at the roster and the resumes
of the people who are at the very top-tier levels of the national campaign,
the person who is running things, his main claim to fame, his main claim to
expertise to be running this national campaign was that he was an old
college friend of Callista Gingrich`s.
Right now, Mike Allen from Politico.com who has broken this new has
just been able to join us by phone.
Mike, thanks very much for joining us. I appreciate it on short
MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO (via telephone): Well, thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I`m just talking about Michael Kroll stepping down as the
head of the Gingrich campaign team right now to be replaced by somebody
else who has been involved with Gingrich for a long time, is that right?
ALLEN: That`s right. The number two in the campaign, Vince Haley
(ph), who has worked for Speaker Gingrich in a variety of jobs for the last
nine years will be coming in. Now, they`re calling it a big-choice
convention strategy, saying that they`re going to focus on Tampa.
But, of course, for your viewers now, this is likely a strategy of
necessity that we saw in Gingrich`s financial report last week that he had
more debt than he did cash on hand. And he`s, of course, third in
So he`s going to be doing some visits to seek the primaries, but he`s
not going to have a full-time schedule. This is a way to stop short of
suspending the campaign, to shrink the campaign. And they`re arguing that
it`s the war of ideas in Tampa, but Mitt Romney is 160 delegates short and
is not able to switch them, and if the three candidates are out there
making their pitches, that that would be Newt Gingrich`s wheelhouse.
Of course, that`s a very unlikely scenario, but that`s their last
MADDOW: Mike, isn`t there a bit of a problem with that strategy,
though? Because as I understand RNC rules, you got to have a plurality of
delegates from five states in order to have your name put forward for the
nomination. Gingrich is nowhere near that. I don`t even think this big-
choice convention idea holds water.
ALLEN: Well, he rules are a little murky. Those are the requirements
to be automatically put in nominations. But you`re right, it`s a long
shot. And this is a retreat to team I don`t think this big-choice
convention idea holds water.
MADDOW: The rules are a little murky. Those are the requirements to
be automatically put in nominations. But you`re right, it`s a long shot.
And this is a retreat to team Gingrich. They are going back to people
who have largely been with him for a long time. And people have come over
from his think tank. And so, the normal way to campaign, of traveling
states and going out, trying to get delegates, they`re not able to do that.
We have an e-book that I just finished, actually closed today with
Evan Thomas (ph), the second in our series. And in that e-book, we report
that speaker Gingrich was very surprised to find out how bad the finances
were and that he was taken by surprise by how short they were of money.
We`re told that these 12 people that will be laid off at the end of
the month, that that`s roughly one-third of the full-time staff.
MADDOW: OK, Mike Allen, Politico.com -- congratulations on the scoop.
Thank you for joining us on short notice. Mike, I appreciate it.
Now with my apologies for being a minute late, it is time for "THE
LAST WORD" with Lawrence.
Lawrence, I`m sorry to have broken into your hour with that breaking
news. I got ahead of myself. I apologize.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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