Op-Ed

Nominee Farr is too far-right for the federal bench

Thomas Alvin Farr is seated during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington.
Thomas Alvin Farr is seated during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington. AP

On Sept. 20, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee convened its hearing where Thomas Farr – as one of five judicial nominees – answered questions from those Senators who were able to attend, given the Senate recess. Unfortunately, Farr provided no answers in his brief time to assuage concerns about his record.

These are not minor, partisan quibbles. Farr’s record goes directly against mainstream North Carolina. To put it bluntly, he is tainted by the anti-worker and anti-African-American positions he has taken the past four decades, including his recent defense of North Carolina’s illegal voter identification law, which was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit because it targeted black voters with “almost surgical precision.”

All of North Carolina’s people rely on federal judges to be fair, open-minded and unbiased, which is why all of us hold each judge to a high standard. Farr doesn’t clear that hurdle. If he is confirmed, we will wonder what influenced the outcome of his decisions. Did that plaintiff win because of her political party? Or her color? Or because she was on the side of a powerful corporation?

Farr’s long record of anti-civil rights work makes a casual observer clearly understand how hard he has worked to sharply restrict the term “justice for all” to just the powerful.

Farr represented the one of the ugliest political campaigns in recent North Carolina history. In 1990, the Helms for Senate campaign sent 125,000 postcards to North Carolina voters, most of whom were black. The postcard suggested they were ineligible to vote and threatened them with voter fraud if they tried to cast a ballot. Farr represented the campaign against a Voting Rights Act complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. The case was settled out of court.

Farr’s record indicates that he hasn’t changed much in a quarter-century. He recently represented the Republican Party’s efforts to racially gerrymander the state to disenfranchise poor and black voters. He also defended a law carefully tailored to block African-American voters from the polls with burdensome new identification requirements.

Fair-minded North Carolinians reject this brand of overtly race-based discrimination, and so have the courts. When the Fourth Circuit struck down the voter identification law, it said the “rush” by our Republican state legislature to enact “the most restrictive voting law in North Carolina seen since the era of Jim Crow bespeaks a certain purpose” – to strip from African-Americans the right to vote.

That’s not all. Farr’s legal record includes opposing workers and working families. One of his first jobs was with an organization that exists to take freedoms from working people. Farr sought to strike down a workers’ compensation law to treat workers with asbestos-related illnesses equally to others injured on the job. Farr also represented a glass company that sued to block its workers from gathering information to protect their own health. He later represented a trucking company seeking to deny the freedom of workers to organize a union. He represented a waste industry company in its refusal to hire a woman driver, arguing the job was “too hard and too rough for a woman.”

Yes, Farr has a lot of experience. He has 40 years’ worth, but every day of it is the wrong kind. So it is with urgency and concern for working people and African-Americans of North Carolina that I write in opposition of his nomination and urge others who care about fairness in our courts to do so as well.

MaryBe McMillan is president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, the state’s largest federation of labor unions.

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