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Senate to Vote on Trump Judicial Nominee Who Defended Voter Suppression

Thomas Farr defended law that targeted black voters with “almost surgical precision”

November 27, 2018

The Senate could vote this week on whether to confirm a contro­ver­sial judi­cial nominee who has led the legal fight to restrict voting access in North Caro­lina.

Senate Major­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell has lined up a vote on Thomas Farr, Pres­id­ent Trump’s nominee to a federal court in North Caro­lina. The Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee advanced Farr’s nomin­a­tion in an 11–9 party-line vote in Janu­ary.

Farr’s nomin­a­tion is contro­ver­sial because of his long history of work­ing in support of efforts to under­mine minor­ity voting rights in North Caro­lina. As a lawyer in private prac­tice, he repres­en­ted the state in defend­ing a sweep­ing 2013 law that required photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion to vote, reduced the number of early voting days, and elim­in­ated same-day regis­tra­tion, among other provi­sions making voting harder. The law was struck down in 2016 by a federal appeals court in a ruling that found it targeted black voters “with almost surgical preci­sion.” The ruling added that the only clear factor link­ing the law’s vari­ous prongs was "their impact on African Amer­ican voters.” 

In 2011, Repub­lican lead­ers in North Caro­lina hired Farr and his colleagues to defend congres­sional and legis­lat­ive bound­ar­ies, some of which were later struck down by a federal court as racial gerry­manders. (The Supreme Court has since affirmed that decision.)

And in 1990, Farr was coun­sel to then-Senator Jesse Helms during the Repub­lic­an’s re-elec­tion campaign against Harvey Gantt, a black Demo­cratic candid­ate, in a compet­it­ive race. Lead­ing up to that elec­tion, Helms, a long­time segreg­a­tion­ist, sent 120,000 post­cards largely targeted at black voters, falsely warn­ing them that they could be arres­ted at the polls for voter fraud. The Justice Depart­ment condemned the move as a voter intim­id­a­tion tactic. Farr has said he didn’t know about the post­cards.

Farr’s nomin­a­tion has garnered strong oppos­i­tion from civil rights groups and from Demo­crats. In a letter, the Congres­sional Black Caucus wrote, “It is no exag­ger­a­tion to say that had the White House delib­er­ately sought to identify an attor­ney in North Caro­lina with a more hostile record on African-Amer­ican voting rights and work­ers’ rights than Thomas Farr, it could hardly have done so.” 

If confirmed, Farr would assume a lifelong judge­ship on the District Court. The seat in ques­tion has been vacant since 2005, making it the oldest judi­cial vacancy in the United States. Pres­id­ent George W. Bush nomin­ated Farr to the seat in 2006 and again in 2007, but the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee never voted on his nomin­a­tion. Repub­lican senat­ors blocked two nomin­ees from Pres­id­ent Barack Obama, both of whom were African-Amer­ican women. If confirmed, either of Obama’s nomin­ees would have been the first African-Amer­ican judge in the district, which is about 27 percent black. Neither nominee was gran­ted a hear­ing.

(Image: Alex Brandon/AP)