Under the Dome

Should lawyer who defended NC GOP on voter ID and redistricting be a federal judge? Trump and NC senators say yes

Thomas Farr, center, confers with Alexander McC. Peters, left and Phil Strach, right, during a break in state court where they defended GOP lawmakers on a challenge to the now-defunct Voter ID law. Farr was nominated on Thursday, July 13, 2017, by President Donald Trump to fill a federal judge post in the Eastern District of NC.
Thomas Farr, center, confers with Alexander McC. Peters, left and Phil Strach, right, during a break in state court where they defended GOP lawmakers on a challenge to the now-defunct Voter ID law. Farr was nominated on Thursday, July 13, 2017, by President Donald Trump to fill a federal judge post in the Eastern District of NC. N&O file

Thomas Farr, the Triangle-based attorney who represented Republican legislators in the lawsuits challenging their voter ID law and redistricting maps, has been nominated by the president to fill a vacancy on the federal court bench in Eastern North Carolina.

The judicial post is in the U.S. Eastern District of North Carolina, a 44-county region spanning from Raleigh to the coast.

The White House announced President Donald Trump’s plans to nominate Farr in a news release on Thursday.

Political conflict over previous nominations by former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama has caused the seat to be the longest-running federal district court vacancy in the country.

Farr has been nominated before — in 2006, shortly after U.S. District Judge Malcolm Jones Howard semi-retired, and again in 2007. But he never received Senate confirmation or a vote on his nomination.

While Obama was president, he tried to bring racial diversity to the district judges and nominated two African-American attorneys — federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, a former state Supreme Court member.

Though the Eastern District population is 27 percent African-American, there has not been a black judge on the bench.

In recent years, the NAACP and others have pushed for a black judge to be seated. But that process has been stalled in the U.S. Senate.

The judges, who receive lifetime terms as stipulated by the U.S. Constitution, must receive confirmation by the U.S. Senate before the president can appoint his nominees.

Efforts to get comment from Farr were not immediately successful.

Both of North Carolina’s senators, two Republicans, praised the nomination of Farr, who when nominated in 2006 was described by the American Bar Association as “well qualified.”

Sen. Thom Tillis called Farr “one of the best legal minds in America.”

Sen. Richard Burr said his “wealth of experience will serve North Carolina well.”

In recent years, Burr did not submit the so-called “blue slip” needed from home state senators for Obama’s appointees to move forward.

In 2013, Obama announced his plans to nominate May-Parker, a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District who would have been the first black judge seated. Though submitting a blue slip would not have necessarily meant that Burr supported May-Parker, it would have pushed her name before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

After Obama nominated Timmons-Goodson in the last year of his administration, Burr issued a news release condemning the president, saying he was “making a brazenly political nomination.”

“Several years ago, when this seat first became vacant, I worked with former Sen. Kay Hagan, other interested members of Congress, and the president to fill the vacancy in the Eastern District,” Burr said in his statement issued in April 2016. “After the agreement had been made, the president declined to honor it. I remain disappointed that the president broke our agreement. I’m even more disappointed that the White House has chosen to double down by making a brazenly political nomination, and without consulting either of North Carolina’s senators.”

Farr is a labor and constitutional law attorney at the Ogletree Deakins firm, which has been hired by North Carolina Republicans at the helm of the General Assembly to defend them from many of the lawsuits filed against their legislation.

Farr has led their defense of the 2011 redistricting maps, which have been found to include unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

He also defended the legislative leaders on the 2013 elections law overhaul that included a voter ID requirement and other restrictions on voting. That law also was struck down in federal court with a panel of judges saying it targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.”

The NAACP and other organizations who sued the lawmakers contended that both the 2011 maps and the elections law overhaul were designed to weaken the influence of black voters, who largely support Democrats.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from Wilson, urged senators to “carefully scrutinize” Farr’s record, questioning whether he could preside as a judge over civil rights cases that come through federal court and “serve impartially.”

“This appointment simply maintains the status quo in a district with a large population of African American citizens,” Butterfield said.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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