Editorial: Federal court vacancy has gone Farr enough

Posted December 4, 2018 5:00 a.m. EST
Updated December 4, 2018 10:10 a.m. EST

CBC Editorial: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018; Editorial #8365
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Thomas Farr, again, isn’t a federal judge. The Eastern Judicial District of North Carolina has been without its full complement of judges for 4,721 days, about 13 years – the longest-standing judicial vacancy in the nation’s history. It is a distinction of dereliction of duty.

Toward the close of the 2016 campaign, Republican Sen. Richard Burr bragged, in a closed-door meeting with GOP activists, “I had the longest judicial vacancy in the history of the United States – on the Eastern District of North Carolina. Not many people know that.”

The failure of Farr to secure adequate support wasn’t because of his conservative credentials. It was because his record backing divisive racial discrimination campaign tactics became the central issue of his nomination. It was just too much. Gaining a life-time appointment to the federal judiciary isn’t merely about knowing the law. It is about understanding justice is for all.

Well, over the last two years a lot more people have become aware of it – and of the inappropriate nominee President Donald Trump and Burr tried to force onto the federal bench.

In December 2006, then President George W. Bush nominated Farr to replace Judge Malcolm Howard who’d retired a year earlier. That nomination languished without even a hearing and expired with the 2008 election of Democrat Barack Obama as president. Obama’s nominations of Jennifer May Parker in 2013 and Patricia Timmons-Goodson in 2016 were blocked by Burr – reportedly to get even over a never-consummated deal he’d made with the president on judicial nominations.

Burr should have supported, not blocked, the nomination of Timmons-Goodson. She was a well-qualified nominee with years of judicial experience including about five years as an associate justice on the N.C. Supreme Court– including a “well-qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.

During his re-election campaign Burr announced he would not seek another term – signaling to voters that he was positioning himself as independent of the typical partisan pressures.

Urging the president to nominate Timmons-Goodson would be an appropriate way to demonstrate that independence.

This vacancy has had steep costs. The federal court system has declared a judicial emergency in the Eastern District because of both the time and extra load other judges have been forced to carry. Civil cases take longer to resolve.

Trump may bring back Farr’s nomination next year, betting that the added Republicans in the Senate will make it easier win the nomination on a third try. But the reasons Republicans Tim Scott of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona refuse to back him won’t change nor make Farr any more qualified. And, other Republicans may come to share Scott and Flake’s view.

Sen. Thom Tillis should join Burr to push the president to nominate Timmons-Goodson – or someone like her. It is time to end the games and assure, as the biblical verse admonishes, justice is pursued through all 44 counties in the Eastern District.

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