MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
NPR is giving voters a chance to talk about their most important election year issues face-to-face with presidential candidates. When our co-host Michel Martin sat down with former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, the conservative direction of the judicial branch was a topic of conversation. The Trump administration has now appointed about a quarter of all federal appeals court judges in addition to two Supreme Court justices. O'Rourke took questions from two undecided voters in his hometown of El Paso. They were first-time voter Connie Martinez (ph) and civics teacher Ruben Sandoval (ph).
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RUBEN SANDOVAL: To me, right to privacy is a very fundamental right. And most of the discussion is around abortion and things of that sort, but it encompasses so much more. When we talk about reproductive rights, we're also talking about access to birth control. But also, it affects LGBT rights. I mean, there's a number of rights that really fall under the umbrella of the right to privacy. And so my question is, how would we maybe persuade the public - or edify the public - to maybe support appointees who will defend that right?
MICHEL MARTIN: Well, can I just amplify...
MARTIN: ...Ruben's question here a little bit? - because the reality of it is the Trump administration has already put its stamp on the federal judiciary. So I mean, obviously, if you agree with the direction that the Republicans in the Senate and the Trump administration has taken, you're fine. But if you, like Ruben, do not, what options do you really have?
BETO O'ROURKE: You're absolutely right, Ruben. President Trump has been very successful in being able to stack these courts, to be successful in having his nominees confirmed at all levels of the federal judiciary. Imagine if he had another four years within which to do that. So as president, I will make sure that we nominate justices who believe in a woman's right to choose, who believe in the full civil rights of every American. And we say this from a state where it is legal - though, it's not OK - but it is legal to fire somebody based on their sexual orientation. But you also talked about our right to privacy, and this is something that we are acutely sensitive to here in El Paso, where our Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure really have been suspended because of our location on the border. We have border patrol checks well into the interior of the U.S. Even if you have not been in Ciudad Juarez earlier today, you will be stopped. You'll be asked to show your papers. You have a different expectation of privacy in this country. When you add to that the challenges that we have in a digital economy, social media - Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat - we need to be far more vigorous in being able to protect our privacy, our data. And as president, I will make that a priority, but we'll also make sure that this is a criteria for how we choose those that we nominate to federal benches.
MARTIN: Any other questions for the congressman?
CONNIE MARTINEZ: I have a pretty pressing question...
MARTIN: OK, go ahead. Go for it. Please.
MARTINEZ: ...That I've been wanting to ask, and it's in regards of immigration. My question for you is what are you going to do about the families that have been separated? I know that's been very controversial with President Trump. But I think that if you are elected, that is something that needs to be addressed not only immediately but diligently. And how would you do that?
O'ROURKE: We are doing lasting damage and trauma to these children. We are torturing them every day that they're separated from their parents. So for that reason, day one as president of the United States, we will spare no expense in finding the parents of those kids, even if they're in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador - wherever they are in the world - and reuniting them with their children and then making sure that we help them with the long-term therapy and recovery to address the trauma that we have placed them in. So let's do that, first and foremost, agree that we will never separate another family, cage another kid, incarcerate anyone seeking shelter or refuge or asylum in this country and then do the larger work of rewriting this country's immigration laws.
KELLY: That's former Congressman Beto O'Rourke. You can watch more of his conversation with voters and our co-host Michel Martin at npr.org/offscript.
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