Joe Manchin, the 74-year-old Senator from West Virginia, received nearly unprecedented power for a single legislator when Democratic candidates won the 2022 Senate Runoff elections in Georgia. The Georgia elections ensured that Manchin’s single vote became the swing vote in the Senate. The 74-year-old holds the power to prevent any legislation passing the 50-50 Senate. Manchin is a career politician who was first elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1982. He has entrenched himself in the plutocracy that has become governance in the United States by continuously holding elected positions for the better of 40 years.
Open Secrets, a not-for-profit watchdog that tracks the relationship between money and politics in the United States, estimated Manchin’s net worth to be approximately 7.6 million dollars in 2019. In an article published the same year, the New York Times estimated that the top 5% of Americans have a net worth of approximately 3.5 million. While Manchin’s campaign literature bills himself as coming from humble roots and in touch with the needs of everyday West Virginians, it’s undeniable that he’s no longer in that demographic. Instead, he is a part of a more prominent ruling elite that is dissociated from the American public and insulated from constituent feedback. A ruling elite that prioritizes their party and colleagues over constituents.
Manchin demonstrated this with abundant clarity in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade by unequivocally stating that he would not be voting for Federal Laws that would protect people’s access to abortion and related services. Rather, even after the Supreme Court handed down the decision, Manchin, in a report by NBC News, stated that his “pro-life” stance would not be changing and that the only exceptions he would allow were for incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother. Further, rather quizzically, Manchin stated that he would support legislation that would make Roe Federal Law, offering no explanation on how this reconciled with his stated narrow exceptions. Further, it was also stated that presumably knowing his home state of West Virginia was one with an abortion ban on the books from before Roe was overturned. A ban that calls for a felony conviction and three to ten years in prison with the possibility of a murder charge if the mother dies during the procedure.
This is all in spite of most West Virginians favoring some form of access to abortion and reproductive health care. In a poll by Hart Research in conjunction with WV Free, it was found that 66% of West Virginians support some form of abortion and reproductive healthcare access. These results were presented to West Virginia’s State Legislature in 2019 after a controversial Amendment was made to the West Virginia Constitution stating there was no constitutionally protected right to abortion in the State, which passed by less than 20,000 thousand votes with only roughly one-third of the State’s eligible voting population weighing in on the matter. Despite this, Manchin stated that he would, at best, vote to protect limited access to abortion in the Senate.
Manchin’s refusal to vote yes on abortion protections shouldn’t be surprising in spite of his constituent’s general support of some form of access to it. Manchin is a microcosm of the more significant battle happening in American politics. The balancing of religious interests and moral mores against the desire of most Americans to have greater individual freedoms. Manchin himself had not hesitated to say that “without that faith in God, without that belief that you as a human being can do better and give something back, if you haven’t had that structure in your life, the faith-based community will share it with you and you hopefully share it with others.”
In other words, one is lost without faith in God and adherence to the morals that religions instill. One has no structure and is directionless until the faith-based community extends a welcoming hand to put you on the path to righteousness. Manchin has made clear that his religion is more important than his politics. That’s his prerogative. Now, it’s voters in West Virginia and all over the nation’s turn to tell Manchin and all others governing the republic, whether it’s more important to adhere to the Constitution and their oath of office, or the religion to which they subscribe.
Christopher Becker is a civil litigator practicing in New York. Christopher graduated from the University of Alabama’s School of Law in 2016. There, he was a Senior Editor of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review.