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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/02/12

Guests: Michael Beschloss, Jay Bookman

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: So great to see Ed out there in Madison with that awesome crowd. Such an awesome show. Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour as well. There`s lots going on tonight. This is California. California is the largest state in the country. Not largest in terms of land area. That would be, you know, Alaska and Texas. But in terms of the number of people who live in the state, California wins by roughly a zillion. California`s population is equivalent to the combined populations of Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Iowa. All of those other states combined have roughly the same population as the state of California. It is a big state. And California also has a big and a very good university system. There are community colleges in California. There are private colleges in California. There`s a state college system/ And then there`s the crown jewel of higher education in California, the University of California system. There are 10 university of California campuses all over the state. My dad went to one of them. My brother went to another of them. They are great schools. Rick Santorum thinks that these schools are actively trying to destroy America. This is Rick Santorum speaking today in Wisconsin. Listen to what he says here. This is one of the all-time classic Rick Santorum making it up moments. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just reading something last night from the state of California American, and that the California Universities -- their -- several -- I think it`s seven or eight of the California system of universities, don`t even tech and American history course. It`s not even available to be taught. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: There`s no American history being taught at the University of California campuses. Really? Why would they do this, Rick Santorum? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANTORUM: It`s not even available to be ought. Just to tell you how bad it`s gotten in the country where we are trying to disconnect the American people from the roots of who we are. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That is unbelievable. What did he say? He said seven or eight of the University of California campuses do not allow you to study American history. They do not teach it. You cannot take it even if you want to. Wow! Rick Santorum, that is unbelievable. By which I mean that literally cannot be believed. That`s not a true thing that Rick Santorum is saying. Not even close. Let`s just pick one of these campuses at random. Here`s the University of California at Davis. Their course catalog -- look at that. History 17A -- History of the United States. Taught by Professor Smalenski (ph). History 17B, History of the United States, taught by Professor Rauchway (ph). History 102M, United States since 1896. History 170B, the American revolution, 1763 to 1790. Now, this one starts in 1763 so maybe that doesn`t count as America because we weren`t officially America yet. History 174A, The Gilded Age and progressive area. Progressive! History 174D, Selected themes and 20th century American history. Thought by instructor Voyles. Shall I go on? There`s others. Rick Santorum while running for president today in Wisconsin said that you cannot take American history courses at seven or eight university of California schools. He read that somewhere. It is true that you can`t take American history courses at one campus in the University of California system. At least I think you can`t. As far as I can tell, you cannot take them at the University of California-San Francisco. That`s because UCSF is a medical school. But still, I`m sure there`s a reason to be outraged about that any way. After all, you know, San Francisco. Rick Santorum is hard to report on in the presidential race because while numerically, in terms of the number of people who are left in the race, Mr. Santorum kind of by default has to be considered a top-tier presidential candidate. But the way that he campaigns frankly repels top- tier style coverage. As in coverage that takes him seriously. Because Rick Santorum campaigns like a Michele Bachmann or like a Herman Cain. He campaigns like Herman Cain did, if Herman Cain had not had a sense of humor or a singing voice or that long, weird string of sexual harassment allegations or an economic plan that rhymed. We reached out to the Santorum campaign today to find out where Mr. Santorum read last night, as he said, that you can`t take American history classes at the University of California. We have yet to receive a clarification from the Santorum campaign. It does not appear he has issued a correction to this misstatement either. Rick Santorum does stuff like this all the time. You may remember him also saying on the campaign trail, remember when he said the government in Amsterdam, the government in the Netherlands likes to kill all the old people there essentially for sport. Remember that? He has not corrected that either. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if you are elderly. And the bracelet is: "Do not euthanize me." Because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people are euthanized every year, and it`s 10 percent of all deaths. Half of those people are euthanized involuntarily at hospitals, because they are older and sick. And so, elderly people in the Netherlands don`t go to the hospital. They go to another country because they are afraid, because of budget purposes that they will not come out of the hospital if they go in there with sickness. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: None of those things are true. None of that is true. I mean, it should be noted -- the Netherlands is a country. There are hospitals in that country. There are old people in that country. So, it`s true that some of the nouns can be affixed to Mr. Santorum`s thesis. But everything else he said there not true and not that hard to fact check -- not hard to figure out that it`s not true. For example, you could just find the Dutch person and ask them. That`s what we did. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: He says 10 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands are the result of euthanasia. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not true. MADDOW: He says half of all of those people, so 5 percent of all deaths in the country are people being euthanized involuntarily. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Totally not true. MADDOW: He says specifically elderly people in the Netherlands don`t go to the hospital and then instead leave the country because they are afraid of Dutch hospitals. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not true and insulting. MADDOW: Elderly people wear specialty bracelets in the Netherlands that say, "Please do not euthanize me." UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be with cool, right, but I have not seen one. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I don`t know if Rick Santorum will apologize for the 100 percent made up, totally untrue, hysterically wrong thing he said today about the University of California. But when he said that the Dutch kill their old people, especially for fun, Dutch people got mad. That Dutch news anchor, who I just questioned there, who you saw me question on the show about what Mr. Santorum said about the Netherlands, that same anchor eventually got the chance to ask the Santorum campaign if they were going to correct the 100 percent made up, totally untrue, hysterically wrong thing that Mr. Santorum had said about Holland. Watch the answer he got. This is an interview between the Santorum spokesperson named Alice Stewart and the Dutch news anchor. Her answer to him is basically Rick Santorum is pro-life. Rick Santorum is pro-life. Rick Santorum is pro-life. I can`t hear you. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to ask you about something you said about Holland and euthanasia. I don`t know if you read about that on the blogs. He stated that people wear bracelets in Holland, saying, "do not euthanize me" and that people are involuntarily euthanized. Do you remember that? ALICE STEWART, SANTORUM CAMPAIGN: Yes, a lot of these things is a matter of what`s in his heart. He is a strong pro-life person. And that comes for life until natural death. And that`s where he is. And those are the issues. The issues that are important to the people of America and that people that come out to vote for him and that is strong pro-life from conception to natural death. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Not asking what is in his heart or what he believes. Your candidate said all of these things about a country called the Netherlands, which is a real place full of real people who are called Dutch people. You said -- he said things that are not true. Will he correct these things? He`s pro-life. The Dutch reporter goes back and asks the spokesperson again and her answer is again Rick Santorum is pro-life, is pro-life, did I mention he`s pro-life. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government of Holland says, the embassy as well, the figures he used are not correct. He sort of gave a wrong picture of the Dutch abortion -- the Dutch euthanasia rules. What is your -- STEWART: Rick is strong pro-life. As I said, he`s pro-life from conception to natural death and that`s what, you know, the voters of America have stood behind him for and that`s why he is getting the support. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand that. But people say he`s not using the right figures. He`s not telling the truth about the Dutch euthanasia law. STEWART: Rick is strong pro-life, as I said, from life -- from conception to natural death. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not going to get a comment other than he is pro-life. STEWART: I gave you an answer. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I am asking you about something that is factually incorrect. No comment on that? Did I mention he`s pro-life? Does that excuse you from having to actually work in the factual world? That is what institutes an answer from the Rick Santorum campaign when they get something dramatically ostentatiously wrong. The Rick Santorum campaign is essentially run basically out of the blog comment on a birther Web site. It is very hard to treat him or his campaign as a major political force. It is hard to treat him as a major political figure who has a shot at the presidency. But this is Mitt Romney`s competition. And heading in to tomorrow`s contest in the presidential primary, Mr. Romney is favored in the latest polling to win the state of Maryland by 25 points. In Washington, D.C., there is not really any polling but it may help in your predictions to know that Rick Santorum is such a serious candidate he didn`t bother to get put on the ballot in Washington. It is not like he tried and was rejected. He didn`t even ask. In Wisconsin, it is sort of contested. Mr. Santorum telling reporters today that he might sneak in and have an upset victory in Wisconsin and sure that is possible. But even the pro-Mitt Romney late developments in Wisconsin ahead of the primary tomorrow reflect the main dynamic in the Republican race this year, which is not about the strength of Mitt Romney as the front runner. It is about the weakness of his rivals. The "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel," relatively conservative newspaper in Wisconsin, did endorse Mr. Romney today. But this is not going to be the kind of endorsement that is easily quoted by the Romney campaign. I mean, I`m sure they will find a way to creatively excerpt it to make it look awesome. But what the endorsement actually says is this, quote, "He`s the clear choice in an uninspired and now dwindling field. Romney`s finger to the wind tacking across the political sea leaves us to wonder if he is anchored anywhere. We do wonder which Romney we will see in the fall. The list of Mr. Romney`s rhetorical contortions is long." And then after short sort of horrifying sounds descriptions of what the other candidates have to offer, the "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" concludes that Mr. Romney as a, quote, "flawed front runner" -- flawed -- is the best choice for Republicans, considering the other options. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANTORUM: Seven or eight of the California system of universities don`t even teach an American history course. It`s not even available to be taught. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: What are you talking about? How can you possibly be one of the last guys standing in this race? It is a national race for an important job. You are the competition. Yes, the flawed finger to the winds, uninspired contortionist, unanchored guy is better than Rick Santorum. But that says more about Rick Santorum than it says about Mitt Romney. It should be noted, though, heading in to these contests tomorrow, which may be, depending how they go, it maybe the last even theoretically tested primaries of the Republican contest. And it should be noted that anything is possible. Nothing is a foregone conclusion in politics. Wisconsin in particular is a place where it has been a hurly, burly unpredictable political landscape recently particularly for the past year as my colleague Ed Schultz eloquently demonstrated in his broadcast last hour from Wisconsin. Here`s one thing that I want you to sort of put a pin in for tomorrow`s coverage. One of the things that theoretically could come in to play tomorrow is that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board told us today that there is a possibility, and nobody expects it to happen. But there is a possibility this could theoretically come to pass that the Wisconsin state Supreme Court at the last very moment could decide to take action to block the existing court rulings that have stopped the state`s new voter ID bill from going in to affect in Wisconsin. So, theoretically, the Wisconsin Supreme Court could at any moment require that as of tomorrow, you have to show ID when you go to vote. And we wouldn`t know that perhaps until the polls open or maybe they would decide in the middle of the day. So, half of the people had to show ID and other half didn`t. The Government Accountability Board, I kid you not, is advising Wisconsin residents to watch the news in order to figure out what the voting rules are for tomorrow`s voting. Chaos is possible. Anything could happen. But frankly, nobody is preparing for a Rick Santorum Republican presidential nomination anymore. Let alone a Newt Gingrich nomination or a Ron Paul one. And that means we are essentially starting the general election already. Buckle up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Still ahead, why President Obama`s toughest political foe may be five men in lovely long, black robes. Stick around. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is Representative Ron Stephens. He`s a Republican in the Georgia state House of Representatives. When Representatives Stephens` daughter was five months pregnant, doctors informed the family of just horrible news. Part of her baby`s brain was developing outside of the skull. The baby`s heart was also inverted. The heart was upside down. If the pregnancy were carried to term, Mr. Stephens said his daughter was told the baby would take at most only one or two breaths. He said, quote, "She would have watched it die." Because that fatal defect was detected by the doctors, Mr. Stephens` daughter was given the option of having an abortion. A bill was introduced in the Georgia House this year that would have banned abortion at 20 weeks, at the time just before Stephens daughter was given her diagnosis. Under the bill, a doctor performing an abortion after the 20-week cut off in Georgia could face 10 years in prison. That bill passed the Georgia House, largely along party lines. But Representatives Stephens, although he is a pro-life Republican, he did not vote for it. He did not vote for the 20-week abortion ban because of his experience with this issue. He walked out of the House chamber during the role call, rather than vote for this ban that would have taken away his own daughter`s ability to have decided in her case and would have had the state government instead step in to force his daughter to all the way go through nine months of pregnancy and the birth of the child that they knew would die immediately upon birth. Mr. Stephens talked to the "Savannah Morning News" about his decision not to vote for the bill. He told the paper, quote, "For something this cruel to happen to my daughter or anyone`s daughter is just plain inhuman. I consider myself pro- life, but this provision was a distortion of pro- life values." But even though it did not have the support of that pro-life Republican Representative Ron Stephens, the new 20-week abortion ban did pass the Georgia House and then went to the Senate in Georgia where it got an amendment. It was amended to add an exemption and the exemption would allow abortions past the 20-week cutoff in the case of a medically futile pregnancy. A case like Representative Stephens` daughter`s case where a fatal defect was discovered. Once that exemption was added into the law in the Senate, Representative Stephens decided he could vote for it. He could vote for the 20-week ban. Again, he is a pro-life Republican and he voted for the final bill once it got that exemption added it to. But because of his initial reservations, based on what happened to his daughter, Representative Stephens is now being denounced as a Republican in name only, as a RINO. He`s been promised that he`s now going to get a Republican primary challenger from a group calling itself Peach Tea Party, peach as Georgia peace. Tea Party as in Tea Party. Mr. Stephens is one of 17 lawmakers being targeted by this Tea Party group. One member of the peach Tea Party coalition telling a Florida newspaper that their priority is banning or rolling back access to abortion even in cases of rape or incest. They say that is at the top of their agenda. Quote, "Any candidate that is not right on the social issues disqualifies himself for public office." So, in this election year, with the Republican Party prioritizing abortion and contraception and social issues generally, we have seen the likely Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, go from having the support of 44 percent of women under the age of 50, nearly half of them, to 30 percent. He`s down now to less than third of women under the age of 50 supporting him. Just a few weeks ago, Mitt Romney trailed President Obama by only a handful of points among women under 50. Now, Mr. Obama is doubling him in that group. This huge falloff among women voters has the president, President Obama, polling ahead of Mr. Romney for the first time in 12 swing states. But that national dynamic, that national falling away from the Republican Party of women voters is a product not just of the presidential race, but of what`s happening in the states. And in the states, here`s how it`s working out. The detail ends up being really important. Democrats are really, really, really fighting in the states against this wrath of anti-abortion, anti-women`s health, anti- contraception legislation. Fighting hard, not just by voting against this stuff, but by demonstrating, by fund-raising, by running ads, by proposing the same kinds of restrictions and humiliations that Republicans want to apply to women seeking abortion would also apply to men seeking Viagra. They`ve also walked out during legislative session sessions, which Georgia Democratic women senators did a few weeks ago, to protest Senate votes on anti-abortion and anti-contraception bills. And again last week, when the Georgia Senate was passing the amended version of the 20-week abortion ban. But this time, Democratic women senators did not just walk out of the session, they staged their own protest, complete with props and slogans. They unfurled rolls of yellow caution tape. They walked out of the chamber. They started chanted loudly enough, according to "The Atlanta Journal Constitution`s" reporting, to be heard inside the chamber. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CROWD: Women will remember in November! Women will remember in November! Women will remember in November! (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Women will remember in November! They are outside of the chamber at this point, but inside the chamber, they could be heard loud and clear. That is what one side of this battle looks like in the state, with Democrats fighting these things. The other side of it, of course, is the Republican side. And on the Republican side, it`s the Republican Party and the conservative movement locked in their passionate embrace? Lawmakers on the Republican side susceptible to the same high-bound, old school Republican, social conservative politics they have always been subjected to. After three years of being told the new face of Republican activism, the Tea Party movement, is all about small government, fiscal issues and putting the culture war behind us, the group calling itself the Tea Party movement in Georgia is primary Representative Stephens for his insufficient ideological purity on how thoroughly he would push to ban abortion. Joining us now is Jay Bookman. He`s a columnist for the "Atlanta Journal Constitution." Jay, thanks very much for being here. It`s nice to see you. JAY BOOKMAN, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION COLUMNIST: Thank you for the invitation. MADDOW: This particular Tea Party group, this Peace Tea Party group, is a coalition of a bunch of conservative groups, including Georgia Right to Life. Has the phrase Tea Party essentially become a name you can freely attach to any conservative organization these days? BOOKMAN: Yes. I think that`s exactly what happened in this case. Georgia Right to Life basically created the Peach Tea Party. And just took the Tea Party name and attached it to social causes. MADDOW: This Tea Party coalition is being really aggressive, specifically on the issue of abortion. I highlighted the case of the one Republican representative because it seems to me the fact he voted ultimately yes on the bill, that the amendment that he sought didn`t gut the bill in any way and came from a personal, understandable place. To be against him and to be determined to primary him for that seems to be almost unusually doctrinaire. Is this something that I just don`t understand about the way Georgia politics is played? Or is this new for Georgia? (LAUGHTER) BOOKMAN: It`s relatively new. But you may recall Karen Handel, who is with Komen for the Cure. She ran for governor in Georgia two years ago as a Republican. She got defeated in the Republican primary because she was deemed to be insufficiently ardent about right to life issues. She supported exceptions for rape and incest. She supported in vitro fertilization. And those are -- you can`t be for those things in Georgia and get the endorsement of Georgia Right to Life. She lost the primary because of that. MADDOW: Does that kind of litmus test, that kind of -- I would say kind of purification politics -- does it have an effect of making Georgia Republicans less competitive in general election contests? I`m thinking specifically sort of suburban Atlanta where that representative I was talking about is from. And some other areas of the state which may not be pure red from which these Republican representatives are coming from. Is that litmus test hurting them or has it not yet done that? BOOKMAN: I don`t believe it will hurt them. Redistricting is making sure those districts are, the red districts are very red. So, I don`t think it`s going to hurt them. I also don`t believe, however, that the Peach Tea Party will be successful in its efforts to oust these people. I think there`s enough of a recognition within the Georgia Republican Party that this really is extremism, that is not where they want to go. You saw that in the Georgia Senate which stopped the bill in its initial form. The 13 Republican senators stood up and voted against it despite being told they would be primaried. I think that took political courage for them. But I also think they understood it`s important for the party to make that kind of stance. MADDOW: The internal dynamics between the conservative movement and the Republican Party are the greatest show on earth when it comes to American politics. Jay Bookman, columnist for the "Atlanta Journal Constitution -- Jay, thanks very much for being with us. I appreciate it. BOOKMAN: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. Five-to-four in hockey means both goalies are having a rough night. On the Supreme Court, 5-4 can mean that we are all having a rough generation of politics. More on that just ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Did you see President Obama speaking today with some very, very harsh words for the Supreme Court? We`ve got that coming up. The tape of that is kind of amazing. Plus, we got presidential historian Michael Beschloss here tonight for the interview. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In 2005, Albert and April bought a house. They were a married couple. They had a 4-year-old son. They had another child on the way. April was pregnant. And after they bought their new house, they decided to celebrate by going over to April`s mother`s house. Driving in the family car, which was a BMW, they were driving through Burlington County, New Jersey, and when they were pulled over by a New Jersey state trooper. April was driving. Albert was in the passenger`s seat, their 4-year-old son in the backseat. Now, several years earlier, Albert, the husband, had been fined for a traffic violation. He had pain paid the fine but for some reason, in New Jersey state records, the fine showed up as unpaid. So, because of that there was a warrant out for Albert`s arrest, based on the supposed unpaid fine, which he had actually paid. Now, there never should have been a warrant out for his arrest. It should have been dismissed. But there was some kind of a glitch. It wasn`t. Albert knew about this glitch and he kept a document with the New Jersey state seal on in the car, showing that he had, in fact, paid the fine in case this ever came up with the police officer. He was aware there was a problem but they looked like there was a warrant for him even though they shouldn`t have been. But despite that, this state trooper, even when Albert showed the document to him, arrested him on the spot and hauled, in front of his pregnant wife and in front of his 4-year-old son, and they hauled him off to jail. Now, not paying a fine is not an offense for which you can go to prison in New Jersey. But when Albert was arrested for having not paid this fine, even though again he had paid it, he was brought first to one county jail in New Jersey and then to another. He was held in jail for six days for supposedly not paying a fine that he actually had paid. And upon admission to both of those county jails in New Jersey, Albert was strip searched. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALBERT FLORENCE: Once I was arrested, I was processed at the Burlington County facility. I was asked to remove my clothing, to bathe in the soap, and once that was done, I was asked to stand in front of an officer and manipulate my genitals, with my hands apart -- my arms apart, I`m sorry turn around, squat and cough. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This is Albert Florence`s wife April. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) APRIL FLORENCE: In those six days, I had no contact with my husband, which is hard because we speak to each other every single day. I see him every day. And to not hear from him, I couldn`t call him. I tried to call up there and nobody would let him come to the phone. And I`m home, going through my pregnancy and I`m having complications with that and to have to answer to my son and he`s 4 and he`s wondering where his father is, it was hard. It was very hard. It was very hard to have to go through that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: About the strip search in particular, Mr. Florence later explained to the "New York Times," quote, "I consider myself a man`s man, 6`3", big guy. It was humiliating. It made me feel less than a man. It made me feel not better than an animal." Albert Florence sued saying that he shouldn`t be subjected to multiple strip searches because he was arrested for such a minor` fence, wrongly arrested, it turns out. And even maybe more importantly, he was not suspected of carrying any contraband. Today, the Supreme Court today ruled in that case against Albert Florence. The Supreme Court establishing a new national precedent which, of course, cannot be appealed, which says that no matter what you are arrested for, whether it is a traffic violation or an unpaid fine, or you have been caught walking your dog without a leash or you have been picked up for not paying child support -- no matter what you have been picked up for, even a false belief that you haven`t been paid even though you did pay it, you can be strip searched multiple times. The four reliably conservative justices on the Supreme Court, plus the swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, made up the majority in this case, ruling against Albert Florence. The four more liberal justices were the minority. Now, this is not a case that`s been on anybody`s radar in terms of having a big expected political impact. But this may be one of those cases. Like you may remember the eminent domain case, the Kelo case a few years ago, another 5-4 decision. That may end up getting a lot of people`s attention, even if you don`t care about the Supreme Court. A ruling like this just sort of has a double take factor, a say what factor. This is one of those things that goes against common sense. It goes against what is our common understanding of our relationship with the police -- our right to bodily integrity, our right to privacy and not in a traditionally partisan, liberal or conservative way. This ruling today, you never know, but I think it has the potential of being broadly upsetting and it hits in the context of a major intersection right now of the court and partisan politics. Even before the Obama`s administration health reform law was taken up by the Supreme Court this past week, the court`s majority had already come under fire from the administration and from the president specifically for their last very controversial ruling in the Citizens United decision. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With all due deference to separation of powers, last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the flood gates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was from conservative justice, Samuel Alito, mouthed the words not true back to the president. Remember that? Watch again. It goes by fast. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: For special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: By the way, it`s how a Supreme Court justice yells "you lie" at the president at the State of the Union. Now with the oral arguments on the health care ruling over and the country anticipating maybe another 5-4 decision on this intensely partisan issue on the health reform law, the president again today engaged directly on the question of the court and specifically on the issue of conservatism on this court. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Ultimately, I`m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I just remind conservative commentators that four years what we have heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was the president today speaking in the Rose Garden. The Supreme Court has always had a role in presidential election year politics. It`s about who might retire and what kind of judges a presidential candidate might be expected to pick. It`s often about the perennial litmus test issue of abortion. But how important would it be and how much historical precedent would there be if it weren`t just who might I appoint to the court, but if the specific actions and specific decisions by the Supreme Court itself essentially got put on trial in the presidential race? Joining us tonight for some perspective is NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Mr. Beschloss, it is good to see you. Thank you for being here. MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thanks. Am I allowed to be promoted to Michael? MADDOW: Yes, absolutely. BESCHLOSS: Thank you. MADDOW: Are there historical precedents of the president putting the Supreme Court squarely in the middle of their election or their election campaign? BESCHLOSS: Sure are. Maybe the best or the most prominent case would be Richard Nixon in 1968, who was saying, you know, elect me and you`ll get law and order -- which is sort of an amusing thing to have argued for in retrospect. But he said the Earl Warren court was responsible in great measure for the break down of law and order in America and that he would strict constructionists and put them on what the Supreme Court. It was an element of his appeal. Probably not decisive. MADDOW: In terms of a president thinking about this as an option. Is there anything either from the Nixon example or other candidate or presidents trying to use this that could sort of work as a lesson in terms of what works, whether or not that issue connects with people, whether it has potential to backfire? BESCHLOSS: Well, I though the president was pretty shrewd today because he basically made the Nixon appeal from the progressive side, saying that, you know, this court has been to activists, Citizens United, and if it rules down the health care reform law. So, he is sort of preemptively framing this in case there`s bad news for him in June. But, usually, it`s not a big issue in presidential campaigns. As you mention, often times, in fact, almost always, a presidential candidate from each side will say elect me because if you don`t you might get some very bad Supreme Court appointments in the next term that may change the balance of power on the court. MADDOW: And that balance of power is the thing that I`m starting to - - I`m trying to figure out how much judicial resonance versus political resonance I guess it has. A lot of court watchers, and even some of the justices themselves when they make public comments, are very open about the fact that they think that 5-4 decisions, particularly in very contentious, very partisan inflective issues, can really affect the esteem of the court, how much the court is respected, whether or not court watchers feel like they can discern partisan bias in the different -- in those tiny majorities of the court. Do you think it makes a difference in terms of the broader presidential resonance for the court to have a 5-4 decision versus ones that are more closer to unanimous? BESCHLOSS: On bigger issues, it sure is a lot better. For instance, when Richard Nixon versus the United States 1974, the issue of whether he could keep his White House tapes, that was 8-0. The court wanted to basically say, even though there was some wavering among certain of those members, this issue is so important, we want to do this in a big way so that no one can say this was just sort of by luck that Nixon or bad luck that he didn`t escape. And in fact, Nixon`s case, first thing he asked when he was told about the Supreme Court decision against him on the tapes, he said is there any error in the decision. Was it perhaps 5-4, suggesting that if that were the case, he might have tried to campaign against it and stay in office. MADDOW: So, the idea is if there is air error in the decision, there is room to politically relitigate it. If there is an error in the case, if it seems like it`s more unanimous, people are more likely to let it stand? Is that basically the idea? BESCHLOSS: Yes, do you remember the case called Bush v. Gore 2000. That was a pretty close call and people were very bitter for a very long time. MADDOW: NBC News presidential historian, Michael Beschloss, it`s always great to have you here, Michael. BESCHLOSS: Thanks and congratulations on the great book. MADDOW: Oh, thank you. That`s very nice of you to say. BESCHLOSS: I`m learning a lot. MADDOW: Look, now, I`m blushing. Great. Thank you. All right. Right after the show on "THE LAST WORD," Lawrence O`Donnell has the latest news -- this is interesting -- on the Trayvon Martin killing. Lawrence`s guest and not for the first time, is going to be the city manager of Sanford, Florida. The politics and the investigation on that story continue to move and evolve in very quick terms. Lawrence has the latest coming up. And here, the state that took the most radical of all of the radical right turns after the 2010 midterms is Michigan. Michigan does not get much attention for that fact. But I think it should. And tonight, an unfolding political story in Michigan that Democrats are unexpectedly winning and I think will blow your mind is coming up on the show. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: That story about Michigan politics is ahead. But I want you to know about another mass shooting that has happened today in the United States. Another one. This time in Oakland, California, at a private Christian university called Oikos. Oikos is ancient Greek for basically home or family. Police say a former nursing student at the school opened fire today in a classroom with a handgun. The gunman shot 10 people, seven of them have died. It is not clear yet why he was at the school today or why he is no longer enrolled. He is reported to have fired off about 30 rounds before fleeing the campus. Local police say they captured the suspect a short while after the shooting, at a Safeway grocery store in nearby Alameda. "The Oakland Tribune" says he told someone working in the store that he had shot people. And as the paper puts it, that he needed to be arrested. After Friday`s mass shooting in Miami which killed two and wounded 12 people dead, today`s mass shooting in Oakland, California, was the second in less than a week and the second in California in the last six months. If we learn more about the shooting, particularly about a motive here, we will let you know. We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: News tonight out of Benton Harbor, Michigan. Benton Harbor is a mostly poor city. It`s also mostly African-American. It is also the first city in Michigan to have the local elected officials stripped of their power last year by the state. Under Republican Governor Rick Snyder`s souped up emergency manager law, your right to vote for who you want to run your town can be overruled by the governor, by the state. And Benton Harbor is the first city they did that, too. The state says Benton Harbor is too broken to be allowed a democratic form of government anymore. So, instead, Governor Snyder turned the town over to a single, unelected manager who has unilateral power to do whatever he wants, no matter what the voters say. That manager says the elected mayor and the elected commission are not in charge anymore. So they are not in charge anymore. In Rick Snyder`s Michigan, democracy is considered part of the problem in places like Benton Harbor, at least. Democracy must go before progress can begin. And accordingly, what counts as progress in Benton Harbor is up to the emergency manager guy now. Under Rick Snyder`s law, this unelected emergency official can fire the elected officials, can cancel contracts, can dissolve the whole town itself, can sell off the town`s assets. Benton Harbor did not have many public assets, but it did have this, a voice, a publicly owned radio station broadcasting out of Benton Harbor city hall. The signal from WBHC 96.5 FM only reaches about three miles. It belongs to the town. They broadcast by the town, for the town and about the town. In February, exercising his unilateral power under Michigan law, the emergency manager shuttered Benton Harbor`s radio station, and put the whole thing up for sale on eBay for $5,000. You get the cords, you get the microphones and everything included. Come and get it. It turns out that even if Rick Snyder`s state law says the emergency guy can auction off the city down to the last office chair, under federal law, you can`t do that. You cannot sell a low-powered radio station that way. You can`t just sell it on eBay. A broadcast license like Benton Harbor has can only go to a local nonprofit or government body, period. Not just to the highest bidder you find online. The emergency manager therefore had to take down the listing on eBay and find a qualified buyer. And now we know who is planning to buy the Benton Harbor radio station. Provided the FCC agrees to the transfer, the new owner will be the Benton Harbor Area Schools. The school district is on the verge of getting the town`s radio station so the students can practice on it. Benton Harbor`s emergency manager says the radio station will be better in the schools. He says, quote, "We believe it`s going to be so much more useful in their hands than in ours." More useful? More useful than what? What was it used for before? In addition to news and music, it was used for dissent, for expressing dissent about the town being stripped of its democratic rights for instance. When the Reverend Jesse Jackson came to Benton Harbor to protest Michigan handing over town to state appointed czars, he sat down at the microphone at the town radio station and spoke his mind. Right there on the publicly owned Benton Harbor radio station. I guess if you happen to be the state appointed czar who`s being protested on that radio station that may not seem like a very useful use of that station. It may not seem very pleasant. We have learned something about Benton Harbor. The emergency manager had been making noises about winding down his time there. But the restoration of Benton Harbor`s democracy turns out not to be imminent. The deputy state treasurer told city residents last week, quote, "We don`t believe we are there yet in Benton Harbor." Later this year, he said, "We are going to be working with folks in he community to talk about the picture you have and we have as to what Benton Harbor`s future ought to look like" Now, you could see that as generous, considering that Benton Harbor`s vision for Benton Harbor`s future matters not at all in legal terms. Local residents have been stripped of their right to have a say so. They have not had a local democracy there since last year, since Rick Snyder took it away. What Governor Rick Snyder and the Republicans Michigan state legislature have done is upend the idea that in America, we elect people to represent us. In America, we are governed by a democratic form of government. Michigan Republicans are ripping that idea out by the roots. If there are problems to be solved, we do not do it by democratic means anymore in Michigan. We suspend democracy in order to get stuff done. We suspend it indefinitely. On the local level, on Rick Snyder`s say so, it means you can be stripped of your right to vote for officials to govern your town. On the state level, though, if you are a representative of the wrong party, you may not be allowed to vote, at the state level, in the state legislature. This picture shows first posted in Ecletablog, shows Michigan House Democrats last week asking for a vote in the legislature and not being allowed one. Republicans in the Michigan House are being sued in court by their colleagues across the aisle, sued for stopping Democrats from voting in the state legislature. The Republicans are being sued for that. This is an amazing story. Amazing that it has come to this, to one political party suing another for the right to vote. And amazing that this afternoon, the state Democrats won an early round in court. A county judge today issued a temporary injunction ordering Michigan House Republicans to let the minority party vote. The court also put on hold several laws the Republicans passed improperly. This order that you can see here with the scratch outs and with the judges scrawling all over it, this is big news in Michigan, with real implications for whether in America, we solve problems by voting, by democracy, or whether we solve problems by suspending democracy. Michigan Republicans say they`ll appeal today`s ruling that lawmakers must follow the state constitution, that the Democrats have to be allowed to vote. They are asking the state attorney general to appeal the ruling immediately and the attorney general`s office says he will. Michigan, you are so epic this year. We are still reporting this story out fully. We`re going to have the full story for in coming days. But now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. I hope you have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END