Political News

Democrats Try to Derail Judicial Nominee They Call a Vote Suppressor

Posted November 27, 2018 11:45 a.m. EST

WASHINGTON — A judicial nominee nearing a showdown vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee could be the test for Sen. Jeff Flake’s vow to block judges until the Senate is allowed to vote on legislation to protect the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Democrats have united behind a bid to derail the district court nomination of a judge who defended a racially gerrymandered House map in North Carolina and helped draft the state’s voter ID law, efforts that federal courts found were specifically designed to disenfranchise African-American voters, in one case, “with almost surgical precision.”

With Flake pledging to stay true to his word, opponents need to find one more Republican to block him, a victory that would momentarily pause the stream of conservative judges Senate Republicans are sending to the federal bench. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone black Republican in the Senate, helped sink a judicial nominee in July over his writings in college, which railed against “race-focused groups” on campus and “race-think.”

A vote is expected this week.

Thomas A. Farr, 64, a Raleigh-based attorney with a focus on employment law, would fill the nation’s oldest federal judiciary vacancy, left open since 2005. But Democrats, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer and the Congressional Black Caucus, are outraged at Farr’s nomination and are spearheading a campaign against him. A coalition of progressive groups, including the NAACP and Demand Justice, have joined the fray.

“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,” the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., has defended Farr, describing him as “the subject of a coordinated and viciously dishonest smear campaign from the far-left.” Senate Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the majority whip, said Monday they were optimistic Farr would be confirmed.

“I’ve listened to him in committee, and I talked to people who know him, and they all tell me he would be a good judge,” said Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I think it might be close, but I think we’ll have the votes.”

But Scott declined to say on Monday whether he would support the judge. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who had withheld his support initially, announced on Tuesday that he would vote for the nomination.

Both Scott and Rubio opposed Judge Ryan W. Bounds’ nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July.

Senate Democrats are waging their campaign of opposition in the court of public opinion, rattling off talking points against Farr on social media every few hours.

“Thomas Farr must not be confirmed to a lifetime appointment as a Federal Judge in North Carolina,” Schumer wrote on Twitter. “It’s hard to believe President Trump nominated him, and it’s even harder to believe the Senate Republicans are considering it again.”

They cite a series of cases in which Farr either defended or personally oversaw tactics to disenfranchise black voters. Farr was appointed by the state of North Carolina to defend against a lawsuit that charged its voter identification law discriminated against minority voters; the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and struck down the law in 2017.

In another instance, Farr defended the state’s partisan gerrymander before the Supreme Court, which struck down some of the districts after ruling they were drawn with the objective of disenfranchising black voters.

And he served as counsel in 1992 for then-Sen. Jesse Helms, the conservative heavyweight from North Carolina who called the Civil Rights Act “the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress.” Farr defended Helms’ campaign after the Justice Department filed a complaint accusing him of intimidating black voters by sending out postcards that suggested they were not eligible to vote and that they could be prosecuted for fraud if they attempted to vote.

“The public must have confidence in federal judges and with this type of hostility toward voting rights and taking on cases that are adverse to voting rights, I think that will eliminate the public’s confidence in his work,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Farr was first nominated to the seat in 2006 by President George W. Bush, but Democrats on the Judiciary Committee blocked him. After retaking the Senate, Republicans twice blocked President Barack Obama’s attempts to fill the vacancy with black women — a fact that has further embittered opponents of Farr’s nomination.

Democrats are hoping to pressure senators up for re-election in 2020 by galvanizing voter outrage over the issue of voting rights. In addition to digital and radio ad buys, the activist group Demand Justice is making 700 calls a day to the offices of moderate Republican senators as well as those who expected to face re-election battles in two years.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and one three black senators, has been quietly lobbying his Republican colleagues.

“I’ve gotten receptive ears from people on both sides of the aisle,” Booker said, adding, “We’re going to do the best we can to let people examine the facts and understand that with all the other people we could have appointed in that area, that this would be someone who I think, would really shake the foundations of people’s faith in the independence of the judiciary.”