Court Decisions, Democratic Unity, North Korea

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr weighs in on the week's news: The Supreme Court issued an historic ruling on the right to own guns, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton reunited, and the U.S. dropped North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic ruling on the right to own guns and a limitation on capital punishment. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton held their first joint campaign appearance. It was in a town called Unity. And the United States dropped North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. NPR's Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And let's begin with these important court decisions.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Of course, the court ruled that the right to own gun ownership is individual and personal, not just related to the right to raise a militia.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: That seems to put an end to the more or less absolute prohibition on handgun ownership in the District of Columbia, though it's not an absolute ban.

SCHORR: Hardly.

SIMON: And the NRA has already sued to overturn a similar ban in San Francisco's city housing.

SCHORR: And Chicago.

SIMON: How do you expect all of this to play out nationally?

SCHORR: Well, what the court did was to narrow its verdict to the D.C. law, which was very sweeping, and various states have other laws and this doesn't strike down anything except D.C. law. And now it's going to be a question of litigating again, one after another, as they go to court to see whether it could be extended or contracted or not. This issue is going to remain with us.

SIMON: Let me ask you, the court also decided that the death penalty - this was the Louisiana case - the deal penalty cannot be imposed for the rape of a child.

SCHORR: Well, it took the position that for one thing, in the case of this child who, eight years old, who changed her story at some point. What the court said, which is correct, is that if it turns out in retrospect to have been wrong, there's no way of going back if you're going to kill the person. And therefore, the death penalty should be saved only for issues where a person was killed. That's the law now.

SIMON: What did you notice about the reactions of the presidential candidates to these rulings?

SCHORR: I think that's terribly interesting. As we've known from past elections, there is a tendency during the primary season for a candidate in either party to shift towards one extreme or the other. Democrats tend to go towards the left and Republicans tend to go towards the right. And the primaries are over and now they're looking at a general election in the entire voting population. And subtly, or not so very subtly, they changed.

You take Obama, for example, on the question of the death penalty. He says, well, in case of a heinous crime, maybe, say, should be able to do that. So he's taking what he considers to be a safe position. Also, in the case of handguns, he said he supports the right of individuals to bear arms but he also can see that a crime-ridden community might want to do something about guns. So that's a safe, right-down-the-center position.

And then when it comes to the question of surveillance, where there is a now compromise bill going through Congress, and he had in the past said he would vote against the compromises because they went too far against civil liberties, now he says he will support that. And it's simply - it is what happens every time you get into the general election campaign, suddenly the world looks very different to the candidates.

SIMON: Senators Clinton and Obama made a joint appearance in the town of Unity, New Hampshire on Friday where they each received exactly the same number of votes during the New Hampshire primary.

SCHORR: A hundred and seven votes for each one. Exactly the same, yes.

SIMON: They buried the hatchet symbolically. Did they bury it in a real way?

SCHORR: During the primary campaign it looked as though they're trying to bury the hatchet in each other. But...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I was wondering if you were going to run to that phrase.

SCHORR: But that is all gone. It is very, very wonderful to see them together, praising each other to the skies. You would never know they had ever differed on anything. Interesting thing that is happening is that some of the women who were very disappointed Hillary Clinton hadn't won and some talk that they maybe not voting or vote the other side, polls indicate that's beginning to change, that they are moving towards supporting Obama.

SIMON: There is all this speculation that one concrete thing that Senator Obama could do for Senator Clinton is help her retire her debt. And Senator Obama and Michelle Obama made the maximum contribution of 2,300 dollars each to Senator Clinton.

SCHORR: Yes, 2,300 dollars or 4,600 dollars for the couple, which is all they are allowed by law, and now they had to find other ways because Mrs. Clinton had said, I want to spend my time campaigning for Obama. I don't want to spend that amount of time having to go and raise money to settle my debt. In other words, you have an interest in helping with that. And they will help as much as they can.

SIMON: But they can't, as I understand it, use the amount of money they have in the Obama campaign coffers to settle...

SCHORR: I don't think that legally you can take a campaign contribution which is for you and say, thanks a lot, I'm going to give it to somebody else. I think that's not allowed.

SIMON: Zimbabwe went ahead with their elections even though there's just really one candidate running, Robert Mugabe. The opposition withdrew saying that they were afraid too many of their supporters would be killed. Is there any chance that the international community doing something beyond sanctions?

SCHORR: There's kind of a pity that the Iraq invasion gave the word "intervention" a bad name, because what's needed in cases like Zimbabwe, is some form of international intervention. Everybody stands by, including the African countries where neighbors stand by looking horrified and saying, this is terrible. And nobody seems to have any answer to it.

SIMON: And Friday, North Korea demolished the cooling tower of its main nuclear reactor. Where does this leave the U.S. and this nation that was on the axis of evil?

SCHORR: Well, halfway. What happens is that they didn't - some of the information that's needed, but the U.S. wants more information about the uranium enrichment, and so this thing goes on.

SIMON: Dan Schorr, thanks very much.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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