WASHINGTON ― Despite protests by civil rights leaders, the Senate voted Thursday to advance a judicial nominee who helped draft North Carolina’s voter suppression law, defended racially discriminatory gerrymandering and may have lied to the Senate about his role in disenfranchising black voters when he worked for the late Sen. Jesse Helms.
The Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to move forward with the nomination of Thomas Farr, President Donald Trump’s choice for a lifetime seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Republicans who voted for Farr include Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and John Kennedy (La.).
Farr was voted out of the committee on a party-line vote last year, but his nomination expired at the end of 2017. Trump renominated him this month, and the committee voted again Thursday without any changed votes.
A North Carolina lawyer, Farr helped draft the state’s sweeping voter ID law passed in 2013 ― one of the most restrictive in the country. When civil rights groups challenged the law, Farr represented the state before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in 2016, arguing it “was not a nefarious thing.” The court struck down the law later that year, ruling that it “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Farr defended state redistricting maps that were rejected by federal courts for being racially discriminatory, and when civil rights groups sued North Carolina in 2015 for violating the National Voter Registration Act, Farr represented the state in court again. He lost.
Back in 1990, Farr was a lawyer for Republican Sen. Jesse Helms’ campaign, which, that year, sent more than 100,000 postcards to black voters in North Carolina with incorrect information about voter qualifications and warned that voter fraud was punishable by up to five years in prison. The Justice Department sued and settled.
Farr denied to the Judiciary Committee last fall that he played any role in that effort, but had to clarify later that he knew some things about it ― a shift that raised questions about whether he had lied to the Senate about his role in intimidating black voters.
Prominent black leaders have denounced Farr’s nomination and say he’s one of the worst federal court picks they’ve ever seen. Rev. Dr. William Barber II, the president emeritas of the NAACP’s North Carolina chapter, said Farr is tied to “the worst elements of white supremacy” in a Wednesday letter to committee leaders. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus set up shop outside Farr’s hearing on Thursday to urge senators to vote no.
Black lawmakers have been vocal opponents of Farr for months, in part because of his record but also because his judicial district is 30 percent black and has never had a black federal district court judge since its founding in 1719.
Farr’s nomination is “racially insensitive,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) told reporters.
Sen. Tillis, who is ushering Farr through the confirmation process, said his critics are attacking his character because they disagree with him politically.
“The far-left has taken this one step further by waging a despicable effort to damage Mr. Farr’s reputation and falsely impugn his character,” Tillis said in a Wednesday op-ed.
Farr’s nomination now heads to the full Senate, where he awaits a confirmation vote. It’s up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) when to schedule that vote.
Farr was one of a whopping 17 judicial nominees voted out of the committee Thursday, many of whom had been voted out of the committee last year but had to be renominated in 2018 after the last legislative session expired.
Progressive groups used the hashtag #monstermarkup on Twitter throughout the day to complain about Republicans packing too many court picks into one hearing and not vetting them sufficiently.
Some of the other nominations voted out of committee include district court nominees Charles Goodwin and Holly Teeter, both rated “not qualified” to be judges by the American Bar Association; circuit court nominee Kyle Duncan, who authored legal briefs opposing same-sex marriage and argued in support of Texas’ unconstitutional restrictions on abortion; and district court nominee Mark Norris, who led an effort to ban communities from removing monuments to Confederate leaders and set up a website with images of refugees alongside pictures of Islamic State terrorists.