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Analysis

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)