Thomas Farr may finally get a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate, but Democrats are already signaling fierce opposition to Donald Trump’s pick to fill a long-vacant federal judgeship in Eastern North Carolina.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, on Thursday filed to end debate and advance Farr’s nomination for district judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina to the full Senate. Any consideration would occur after senators return from Thanksgiving break.
By Friday, high-profile Senate Democrats were lining up against Farr, a 64-year-old attorney, who has encountered fierce pushback from civil rights groups because of his work on the late Sen. Jesse Helms’ 1990 campaign which included voter intimidation, as well as for defending Republican lawmakers in redistricting and voter ID cases.
“Farr is a serious threat to voting rights. Americans need to tell Senate Republicans to block this nomination,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, in a Friday tweet.
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, a likely Democratic presidential candidate, said Farr’s record should disqualify him from the federal bench.
“If he’s confirmed, you can bet he’ll keep working to disenfranchise African Americans and communities of color,” Warren tweeted Friday. “We can’t let that happen.”
Farr, who was first nominated by Trump in 2017 and again in 2018, passed out of the Republican-led judiciary committee on a party-line in January. But McConnell did not schedule a full vote until this week — with precious few legislative days remaining in the calendar. If he is not confirmed before the end of the year, Trump would have to renominate him to a new Senate.
“Thomas Farr is widely respected across the political spectrum, including earning the ABA’s highest rating,” Daniel Keylin, spokesman for Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, said in an email Thursday, referring to the American Bar Association. “While it’s unfortunate that some Senate Democrats have lobbed false and personal attacks against Tom Farr, we look forward to a floor vote.“
Republicans hold a 51-49 edge in the Senate now and their majority will grow to 53-47 in January.
Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, has pledged not to vote for any judicial nominees until the Senate votes on a bill protecting special counsel Robert Mueller. If Flake, who is leaving the Senate, does not vote for Farr, Republicans could not afford any other defections, assuming all Democrats vote against Farr. Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote in that scenario.
“With Senator Flake voting no, we have an opportunity to reject Thomas Farr as a federal judge. Why should we care? He is the architect of voting rights suppression in North Carolina. We just need one more vote,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in a tweet.
The Eastern District of North Carolina includes 44 counties that stretch from Raleigh to the coast. Blacks make up more than 25 percent of the district, but no black judge has served on the court. President Obama nominated two black women to serve on the court, but neither got a vote in committee.
This spot on the seven-judge court has been open since Jan. 1, 2006. Farr was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 and 2007 but never received a vote in committee.
“It is a slap in the face to communities of color everywhere,” the NAACP said in a statement Thursday on the move to schedule the vote. “Thomas Farr poses a serious threat to civil rights, especially since he would preside over a jurisdiction with a large African-American population. Even among dangerous Trump nominees, Farr stands out for his decades-long crusade to disenfranchise African Americans.”