'Face the Nation': Supreme Court Upholding Same-sex Marriage 'Enormous Stretch'

Analysts that spend their time critiquing the media normally don't have very good things to say about what they observe these days, but the final segment of Sunday's "Face the Nation" on CBS was a marvelous exception.

Substitute host John Dickerson invited on the network's chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford and the Washington Post's Dan Balz for a refreshingly open and honest discussion of two pivotal legal issues facing our nation: a judge's decision to overturn California's controversial Proposition 8 which banned same-sex marriages, and; whether or not the 14th Amendment should be revised to address illegal immigration.

What ensued was a tremendously informative seven minute report about these two issues without any cheer-leading or accusatory finger-pointing: Crawford gave the facts about both legal matters as she saw them; Balz addressed the political ramifications for both parties as well as the White House, and; Dickerson asked great questions to keep the conversation moving.

With that as pretext, sit back and watch - or read if you're so inclined - the way these kinds of issues should be discussed on a television news program (video follows with transcript and commentary): 

JOHN DICKERSON, HOST: We're back with more on same-sex marriage with Dan Balz of the Washington Post, and our chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford. Jan, I want to start with you. And the question I asked David Boies. This is a big leap for the Supreme Court when it finally gets there, isn't it?

JAN CRAWFORD (CBS News Chief Legal Correspondent): Well, David Boies said it was not. But clearly it is. I mean they are asking the Supreme Court to set aside, essentially, the laws of forty-four states. So that is an enormous stretch. Now, of course, the Supreme Court has taken up issues of gay rights in the past. Justice Kennedy, the key swing vote in 2003, said that states could not criminalize homosexual sex in the privacy of your bedroom. So-- but that is an entirely different matter than saying there's a federal constitutional right to-- to same-sex marriage.

JOHN DICKERSON: In this case, Judge Walker, quoted Anthony Kennedy fifteen times or so. It was a letter to him. Wasn't it? And is that going to work writing directly to Kennedy, basically, trying to use his own words to say hey, you've go to vote with me.

JAN CRAWFORD: No. I mean clearly this decision was written with an eye on appeal. And it's going to be appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court. The court is so narrowly divided right now in these key social issues, you know, you've got your four liberals, your four conservatives and then that man in the middle, Anthony Kennedy, who is kind of like this, you know, human jump ball. And what they are asking Justice Kennedy to do, in this case, is not only, I mean, he's got to grab the ball, take it down the court, slam it in the basket, and shatter the backboard. I mean this is something that Anthony Kennedy doesn't do. He's a very cautious justice. He doesn't like to get ahead.

Like I said, the same-sex ruling that he wrote in 2003, that struck down laws that criminalized homosexual sex. No one was enforcing these laws. This would change the law of the nation. They would be so far ahead of public opinion and that is why this case was controversial from the beginning. Remember, the traditional gay rights groups did not want David Boies and his conservative counterpart, Ted Olsen, to file this case because they think the Supreme Court is not ready. They wanted to see more states pass laws allowing same-sex marriage and then take it to the court and not put that onus and that pressure on the Supreme Court. And I would not be so confident if I were David Boies.

JOHN DICKERSON: Dan, let's talk about the politics of this. It does seem like from the Republican side, you know, George Bush when a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled on-- in favor of same-sex marriage, immediately he came out with a constitutional amendment to ban it. This time pretty quiet from Republicans.

DAN BALZ (Washington Post): Yes. And I think that-- there's a good reason for that. In 2004, the Republicans needed to do everything they could to motivate their base. Their base this year is highly motivated. They don't need to do more to crank up the anger, the energy that's there on the right.

The second, I think, and more important reason, is they have very good issues to deal with in this midterm--the economy, the size and scope of government, debt and deficit. Those are issues that unify their entire coalition and also reach out to independents to introduce in a significant and loud way same-sex marriage would threaten to pull away from that-- pull that coalition apart.

JOHN DICKERSON: Distract. Okay. If it's going to keep the Republicans quiet on this issue, what about the Democrats? How do they handle this?

DAN BALZ: Well, the Democrats are equally conflicted or-- or quiet on this. Because while much of the Democratic base favors same-sex marriage, the truth is most elected officials including President Obama are opposed to it. And so, there is conflict within their base. They don't want to really get into this at this point and stir things up. The President has stayed away from this issue for the most part, as have most other Democrats. So I don't think you're-- going to see Democrats trying to leap to make this into an issue in the fall. Even in-- even in some districts. I think where this will play is in some conservative districts in some red states. Individual Republicans will use it, particularly, through micro-targeting. They will reach to voters not with broad messaging but by direct mail or phone calls things like that.

JOHN DICKERSON (overlapping): That's it. Go on.

JAN CRAWFORD: And-- keep in mind, though, too. I mean, this is the first ruling by one federal judge and it's going to be appealed. This case is going to get to the Supreme Court pretty close to 2012. So, you know whether or not it's an issue in this year's midterm or not it's going to be an issue in the presidential election.

DAN BALZ (overlapping): I think that's right. And I think--

JAN CRAWFORD: And President Obama is going to have to s-- I mean, what does he do?

DAN BALZ: And-- and I think, as you said, the question is public opinion is changing on this, and fairly dramatically over the last four or five years. But it's not at the point where there's majority opinion in a majority of the states in favor of same-sex marriage. The court may end up ruling on this long before public opinion reaches to the conclusion a majority favors same-sex marriage.

JOHN DICKERSON: Jan, I want to ask you about another legal issue. The same-sex case is about the 14th Amendment. There's also been some Republicans talking about the 14th Amendment in another context, in terms of this automatic birthright citizenship in the United States. What's happening on that front?

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, I had about an hour-long talk about this actually on Friday with Senator Lindsey Graham. And this is really kind of one component of what he sees and is pushing is some broader immigration reform. And it-- he believes that it is a real problem that people are coming to this country illegally, having babies, and then they're automatically U.S. citizens. And then they kind of piggy-back, the parents can piggy-back on those kids to stay here in this country illegally. He has all these figures. There's been a fifty-three-percent increase in births to foreign people, who've come here to have their babies in the last four years alone. So, this is a way he wants to look at the 14th Amendment and say maybe it's time for us to rethink that. Remember the 14th Amendment which is sacrosanct I think to-- to so many people was passed to give citizenship rights to the freed slaves. Because obviously the Southern States weren't going to be doing that unless the federal government stepped in.

So he's saying it's time to rethink this. When we're really looking at immigration reform as part of a broader package, securing the borders, giving a path to citizenship for the twelve million people who are here legally now, having some kind of worker ID card, and then also stopping this practice where people can come here illegally or not, have children here, and those children be U.S. citizens.

JOHN DICKERSON: Dan, this is an issue, Republicans want to talk about as opposed to the same-sex marriage.

DAN BALZ: Absolutely. I mean I think what you're seeing is that almost all of the elements of the immigration debate that are being discussed now, public opinion tends to be on the side of where the Republicans stand. The Arizona Immigration Law--there are a lot of Democrats particularly, in the west, who are very unhappy that Justice Department and the President decided to step in on that case, feeling that this was a moment that they didn't want to get into an issue like that that the administration needed to stay focused on the economy. The 14th Amendment issue is another one. I mean we are a long way away from any serious legislating on immigration reform. It died this year. It will-- it may come back next year, but we're a long way away from that. Nonetheless, this discussion is lively right now. And it is helping the Republicans.

JOHN DICKERSON: Okay. Dan Balz, thanks so much. We're going to have to go, Jan. thanks.

Bravo, folks. This really was one of the most interesting and informative segments concerning these two issues I saw all week.

Almost as important, folks on either side of these controversial matters weren't criticized or defamed, and you couldn't tell how the three journalists on your screen felt about what they were discussing.

In fact, if this was the first you had seen or read of Balz, Crawford, and Dickerson, you'd likely have no idea what side of the political aisle they're on.

Isn't it nice? 

Of course, if television news outlets reported like this more often, I wouldn't have much to write about. 

*****Update: As bonus coverage, here's Chris Wallace's interview with Ted Olson on "Fox News Sunday." I think many will find this equally fascinating:

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.