The head of the state NAACP and others in the organization traveled to Washington recently to try once again to persuade a few Republican senators to block the appointment of Thomas Farr to the federal bench.
The Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, head of the state NAACP, made a comparison to Adolf Hitler at a news conference before visiting senators on Capitol Hill. His comments drew a rebuke Monday evening from state Republicans.
Spearman and others who spoke noted that the Eastern District of North Carolina, a 44-county region from Raleigh to the coast, has a black population of more than 25 percent but the U.S. Senate has never confirmed the appointment of a black judge to that bench.
In addition to the constitutional claims and criminal cases that come before the U.S. District Courts, judges preside over discrimination cases, too.
“To place this judicial district in the hands of Tom Farr for the rest of his life is the cruelest insult the government could place on my ancestors and millions of natives of the black belt who worked the region’s rich black soils for centuries,” Spearman said at the news conference last week, renewing questions about Farr’s work defending the Jesse Helms’ campaign.
In the aftermath of Helms’ 1990 re-election campaign, Farr was part of the defense against U.S. Justice Department complaints of voter intimidation after postcards were sent to more than 100,000 mostly black voters telling them they were ineligible to vote and might be arrested if they tried.
“Tom Farr in the Eastern District with the legal authority to decide the fate of African-Americans — hear me somebody — is tantamount to Adolf Hitler wreaking havoc among our Jewish sisters and brothers, and Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, breathing out cruelty to Christians,” Spearman added.
The state Republican Party issued a news release calling Spearman’s comments “racist and anti-Semitic hate speech.”
“Farr is a man of character, honor, and distinction,” Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the NC GOP, said in a statement. “He has treated people with dignity and respect over the span of his entire career, and he will continue to do so when confirmed. There is simply no place for a state leader to refer to those who have different political philosophies as Adolf Hitler.”
Farr’s nomination by President Donald Trump has drawn widespread criticism from the NAACP, Democrats, the Congressional Black Caucus and others.
Republican senators from North Carolina have called the criticism unwarranted attacks on a lawyer who was trying to offer his clients the best representation possible, whether or not he agreed with them.
“Since the moment Mr. Farr was nominated, he has been the subject of a coordinated and viciously dishonest smear campaign from the far-left designed to tank his confirmation,” Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, wrote in an opinion piece published Jan. 17 on The Hill website. “The opposition is rooted in both ideological objections to the clients Mr. Farr has defended, as well as the political posturing of politicians on the left. It’s important to note that this smear campaign has absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Farr’s actual qualifications.”
In January, over strong opposition from Democrats, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Farr’s nomination for a second time along party lines. The full Senate hasn’t voted yet, so NAACP members from North Carolina took a bus trip on Wednesday to Capitol Hill and spent the day passing out packets of information for senators to read.
Spearman said afterward that the group met with staff for the two North Carolina senators — Tillis and Richard Burr, a Republican from Forsyth County. Both senators have voiced strong support for Farr and pointed out that the American Bar Association has given the nominee a top rating for the Trump nomination and earlier when President George W. Bush nominated him in 2006 and 2007.
Looking to Republican senators
“The consensus of our group was that the offices of Burr and Tillis are not moveable, if you will,” Spearman said. “One of Tillis’ staff said they thought that Farr was a good guy. I don’t think there will be anything changeable there.”
Republicans control the Senate, and so far, no cracks have appeared in GOP support for Farr.
But Spearman said the group left with some optimism after visiting the offices of Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio and a lawyer, and Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina and one of three African-Americans in the Senate.
Spearman and others will reach out to NAACP leaders in other states and try to persuade them to call for more questioning of Farr and call for more diversity among the judges being nominated by President Donald Trump and appointed to the bench during his administration.
On Wednesday, Derrick Johnson, national president of the NAACP, and U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democratic congresswoman who is a delegate from the District of Columbia, joined Spearman and others as they visited Capitol Hill.
‘Animosity to civil rights’
They voiced their concerns about Farr’s work with the Helms campaign and questioned whether Farr was accurate in his response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein about his work with the re-election campaign of Helms, the former senator from Raleigh who died in 2008.
“You cannot be unqualified, you cannot be a racist, and you cannot be a liar and sit in the seat of justice,” Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said.
The Eastern District of North Carolina job has been vacant for more than a decade because of political conflicts and a standoff between Burr and former President Barack Obama.
During his presidency, Obama’s attempts to put a black judge on the bench were blocked by Burr, who has said he took that stand because he had made a deal with Obama about judicial appointments that was not upheld.
“We find ourselves with an unusual number of judicial nominees whose records show an animosity to civil rights – and Thomas Farr stands out even among them,” Holmes Norton said.