Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Burr's obstinance may help Farr but doesn't further justice

Posted September 27, 2017 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2017 5:46 a.m. EDT

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CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017; Editorial # 8216
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Perhaps the seat on the Eastern District of North Carolina judicial bench has been vacant for so long (11 years, the longest standing judicial vacancy EVER) because it needed to be filled by just the right person.

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Perhaps North Carolina’s two senators, who with the president are the most responsible for filling the vacancy, wanted to find a person who didn’t just know the law, but knows the area and is somewhat representative of those who would come before the court.

Perhaps?

Nope.

There were some most able nominees, Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson. But they were NEVER even considered by the U.S. Senate. Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican, refused to submit their names to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. Burr refused even though he was among those who’d recommended then-President Barack Obama nominate May-Parker for the post.

Had either May-Parker or Timmons-Goodson been confirmed by the Senate, they’d have been the first African-Americans to sit on the federal bench in the 44-county district were 27 percent of the population is black.

The long vacancy has been a burden for the area. Civil cases take longer to resolve, the remaining three full-time judges have more work than they can handle. Even with senior judges picking up some cases, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has said the situation is an emergency.

During his re-election campaign a year ago, Burr boasted about his obstructionist efforts. “I have the longest judicial vacancy in the history of the United States in the Eastern District of North Carolina,” Burr said, as he pledged to block Supreme Court nominations if Democrat Hillary Clinton were elected.

Well, Clinton lost and Burr’s now proudly promoting President Donald Trump’s recycled nominee for the seat – white Republican Thomas Farr. Farr was first nominated for the seat in December 2006.

Farr has been a long-time lawyer for state Republicans on elections issues and has been the go-to attorney to defend state GOP legislative leaders’ efforts to impose strict voting rights laws and the racial gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts. Responding to questions during his nomination on Capitol Hill last week, Farr said:” I do not believe that they thought they were purposefully discriminating against African Americans.”

What? The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, where if he becomes a judge Farr will seek precedent, saw the legislature’s intent starkly different. It rejected Farr’s defense and famously declared the unconstitutional redistricting targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision.” At least Farr did tell the committee he would abide by 4th Circuit rulings.

So, let’s recap here. Burr blocked two very qualified African-American judicial candidates for years. But when Trump was elected, he heartedly backed a lawyer who has defended the most racially segregated legislative and congressional districts in the nation.

What does all this say about Sen. Burr’s motivations? What conclusions should we reach?

He’s a career politician – 22 years in Congress -- whose profile is so below the radar that last month a quarter of the state’s voters were unable to say if he’s doing a good job or not.

During the 2016 campaign Burr announced it would be his last – supposedly signaling that lame-duck status would grant him independence from partisan rigidity and the big-money right-wingers.

He’s led us to expect better. But his positions on the Graham-Cassidy health bill and this critical judicial appointment don’t measure up to his own expectation.

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