Politics & Government

Republicans advance Farr for judge as Democrats say pick shows Trump’s ‘racial animus’

Thomas Farr is seated during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington.
Thomas Farr is seated during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington. AP

Over strong opposition from Democrats, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved President Donald Trump’s nomination of Thomas Farr to be a federal judge for the second time on a party-line vote.

The Eastern District of North Carolina, where Farr would serve, covers 44 counties from Raleigh to the coast. The post has not been filled since 2005.

Farr’s nomination passed out of committee on a vote of 11 to 10 and his nomination will be sent to the full Senate.

Democrats objected to Farr’s record on voting rights for blacks and other minorities, including his work on former Sen. Jesse Helms’ campaigns decades ago. The Eastern District, with a population that is more than 25 percent black, has never had a black justice.

“He’s not colorblind when it comes to the law or his actions and the scales of justice will not be balanced with him on the bench,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “This is the wrong person to put on the bench, and it shows that President Trump and his racial insensitivity and his racial animus toward different communities are just unacceptable in this day and this age. There becomes a point at which time silence becomes betrayal.”

Since the nomination of Farr there has been a backlash from civil rights and worker advocates who are opposed to clients Farr has represented and laws he has defended, including voting laws and districts that were found to be unconstitutional by the courts.

On Twitter, critics have started a hashtag campaign #FarrOut, urging critics to contact senators to voice their concerns.

Richmond and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, urged committee members before the hearing to vote against Farr, whose nomination passed out of committee last year but did not receive a vote from the full Senate. Senate Democrats objected to Farr’s nomination being carried over into the new year, necessitating a re-nomination from Trump and a new vote in the committee.

“We believe that Mr. Farr’s record raises serious questions regarding his commitment to equal justice under the law that disqualifies him from service on the federal bench,” the Congressional Black Caucus wrote in a letter.

Said Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat: “Thomas Farr is not only academically unqualified for this position, but he is racially insensitive.”

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., explained the recent history of the Eastern District of North Carolina. He said President Trump's nominee Thomas Farr is "probably the most unqualified, insensitive, uninformed, incompetent attorney. ... Thomas Farr

Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican and member of the judiciary committee, has supported Farr throughout the process. He defended Farr in an opinion piece published this week and again in Thursday’s hearing.

In his opinion piece, Tillis accused Senate Democrats of “flagrant politicization of our courts and the confirmation process itself.”

On Thursday, he touted Farr’s well qualified rating from the American Bar Association.

“I get that we have difference in our political ideologies, but I think absolutely destroying a good man’s reputation is inappropriate,” Tillis said. “... He’s going to be a fantastic judge, he’s going to be a fair judge.”

Tillis disputed Farr’s involvement with a postcard mailing meant to intimidate black voters.

In the aftermath of Helms’ 1990 re-election campaign, Farr was part of the defense against U.S. Justice Department complaints of voter intimidation after postcards were sent to more than 100,000 mostly black voters telling them they were ineligible to vote and might be arrested if they tried.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said the Congressional Black Caucus has been fair to President Trump, but his record of nominations is poor. Norton said Farr must not be confirmed on Thursday, January 18, 2018.

In response to a questionnaire from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Farr wrote that he did not know about the postcard campaign until after the mailing.

But Gerald Hebert, a former federal prosecutor who took notes about the case in the 1990s, told Indy Week recently that his recollection is different. Hebert said his notes show that Farr was part of a meeting that key players in the Helms campaign had about their “ballot security program” in October 1990. Sending postcards to voters was one of the issues talked about during that meeting.

Farr has not returned phone calls seeking comment. In a response dated Dec. 19 to questions from Sen. Cory Booker, published by National Review, Farr acknowledged that he attended a meeting where postcards were discussed. He said he told participants there was no reason to send postcards and added: “There was no discussion about the content of any hypothetical card that might be mailed or the persons who might be mailed a hypothetical card.”

Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, January 18, 2018.

Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and new member of the committee, said Farr’s answers to his written questions about the postcard raised more questions about his previous testimony to the committee. Booker called on Farr to be brought before the committee again for live testimony, but that request was denied by Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and the committee’s chairman.

Booker said he felt that Farr was “unqualified to provide impartiality, unqualified to uphold the integrity that our judicial system demands.”

Tillis said Farr’s involvement with the mailing has been erroneously reported and unsubstantiated outside of a single source.

“What was done was despicable. Quite honestly, anyone who had anything to do with the production of the mailer shouldn’t really have a job in political life today as far as I’m concerned and I happen to know some of those people,” Tillis said.

But he said that Farr “was never campaign counsel” for Helms and “was never named as a defendant” in the George H.W. Bush administration case against the Helms campaign.

“He made a career out of making it harder for African-Americans to vote in North Carolina,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.

Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, while announcing his opposition to many of the 23 nominees considered Thursday, said “Thomas Farr is probably the worst of the litter.”

Democrats used the hearing to criticize several of the nominees. Farr was mentioned by all 10 Democrats on the panel.

“Could this administration have picked an individual who is more hostile to the rights of minorities than this man?” said Richard Durbin of Illinois, echoing sentiments from the Congressional Black Caucus.

Farr was previously nominated for the position by President George H. W. Bush in 2006 and 2007, but he did not receive a hearing in committee.

Neither of President Barack Obama’s nominations for the district – both black women – were granted a committee hearing due to objections from Sen. Richard Burr in both cases and Tillis in the latter nomination.

“The history of this vacancy makes it all the more troubling that Mr. Farr has a long record of fighting on behalf of racially gerrymandered voting districts,” said Feinstein, a California Democrat and the ranking member on the committee.

Brian Murphy: 202-383-6089, @MurphinDC