CHARLESTON, WV -- West Virginians, who attended a town hall Friday to discuss Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh with Sen. Joe Manchin, urged him to ask the judge about hot-button issues such as his past writings on prosecuting presidents and his views on government surveillance.
Manchin, a Democrat, who said he would meet with Kavanaugh within the next two weeks, held the roundtable discussion with about 25 local political activists and attorneys to solicit opinions on and questions for the president's nominee.
Kavanaugh has met with more than a dozen Republican senators since his nomination, resulting in a chorus of favorable reviews.
And while he has yet to meet with any Democrats, he is clearly in discussions about doing so.
“We can do it as random as you want to do it,” Manchin said as he kicked off the roundtable discussion, held at the West Virginia Lottery Headquarters building, urging participants to talk about whatever they wanted.
Jon Mani, a Charleston attorney, told Manchin he was concerned about Kavanaugh’s argument in a 2011 Minnesota Law Review article that sitting presidents should not be subject to prosecution while in office.
“You look at his writings, his opinions, he’s very very behind almost, an imperial executive theory,” Mani said. “The president is exempt from lawsuits while in office. Can’t be indicted while in office. This is terrifying,” he added.
“We’ve heard a lot about that,” Manchin said, pledging that his legal advisors were gathering all the information they could about Kavanaugh’s views on the topic and that he was sure to ask him about it.
Lee Javins, also a lawyer, expressed concerns about Kavanaugh’s opinion in a 2015 case involving the National Security Agency.
Kavanaugh wrote that the NSA’s collection of cell phone metadata was not subject to Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures because it was data obtained from a third party private company with which consumers chose to engage.
Kavanaugh also argued a separate point, which alarms some surveillance skeptics even more, that even if the phone data collection was subject to Fourth Amendment protections, the protections wouldn't apply if the data collection was for national security purposes.
Javins asked Manchin to ask the nominee: “Where do you draw the line where it comes to privacy?”
During the hour-and-a-half conversation, Manchin lamented that Supreme Court nominees have become less candid during their meetings with senators who will approve or block their joining the high court.
“The thing I don’t like anymore is the judges ... right now everything’s become such a hot topic and they don’t want to talk about anything. They need to talk,” he said.
To that point, Jonathan Marshall, another attorney in the audience, urged Manchin to consider the entire breadth of Kavanaugh’s public documents, all of which Senate Democrats are trying to obtain. Kavanaugh had previously worked in the Bush administration, meaning all of his writings during that period are archived.
“We also understand there’s over potentially a million documents, perhaps, out there that may have all of his writings, opinions from the judge that have yet to be viewed,” Marshall said. “What do those things say? Are there other writings out there? It’s one thing to be on the court, with colleagues, being guarded ... Sometimes they don’t necessarily reflect the true opinions,” he added.
Manchin, who voted for President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is also facing a steep re-election challenge this year from the Republican state attorney general, Patrick Morrissey. Morrissey has previously said he thinks Manchin will vote for Kavanaugh for the senator's "political survival.”