Tom Farr, Raleigh lawyer and controversial Trump nominee to the federal bench, on Thursday moved a step closer to a full confirmation vote by the U.S. Senate. Farr’s nomination was approved on a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will likely go quickly forward to the full Senate for final confirmation to a position as a federal district judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The president’s nomination of Farr has drawn consistent and harsh criticism from a variety of liberal and civil rights sources and numerous articles, national and local, attacking his record on race. Ostensibly these attacks have arisen out of Farr’s connection to the Jesse Helms senatorial campaigns years ago, particularly his role as Helms Committee attorney in 1984 and 1990. The ’90 campaign was most notorious for an improper voter registration card sent by the Helms campaign in an effort to tamp down African-American turnout. Farr has disavowed any role in that matter, but opponents have seized on contradictory perspectives from others to essentially – and wrongly – label Farr as racist and unfit to be a federal judge.
The fact that Farr has impeccable credentials as a conservative Republican who has represented the GOP in numerous lawsuits, many dealing with redistricting and voter ID laws, has also been a major source of contention. The bottom line is that Democrats, liberals and civil rights groups don’t like Farr or his clients and don’t want him to become a federal judge. Adding salt to the wound is the fact that GOP senators from North Carolina blocked two well-qualified Obama-era nominees – both African-American women – to this very seat by not even allowing hearings on their nominations.
Well, here are the facts. Tom Farr is an experienced, talented and tough lawyer. He’s exceptionally well qualified (as found by the American Bar Association) and would make an excellent trial judge. He’s conservative, solidly Republican and has enthusiastically represented party and candidate interests consistent with his ideological beliefs in election fights.
I’ve known Tom Farr for more than 30 years. I’ve observed him in court and in the political arena. I’ve also been in political battles with him and against him back in the day when there were two factions in the Republican Party – the “Helms Wing” and the “Old Guard” mostly made up of mountain residents with Republican roots going back to the Civil War. Farr is considerably more conservative than I am but I’ve always found him an honorable person and I have no doubt that if confirmed, he’d put away any partisan perspective. He’ll be a fair, conscientious judge mindful of his constitutional responsibilities to people of all beliefs and races.
The opposition to Farr illustrates a fundamental problem: the long-standing practice of blocking well-qualified nominees because they don’t meet the ideological tests desired by those confirming the choice. Democrats have blocked conservative Republican nominees, and Republicans have blocked liberal Democrat nominees. That’s wrong. The refusal to give the Obama nominees to this judgeship a hearing and confirmation vote was wrong. So too was refusing to give Judge Merrick Garland a vote for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. But both parties and their ideological supporters have to stop this “tit-for-tat” for the long-term benefit of our constitutional system.
Tom Farr deserves the opportunity for the U.S. Senate to vote on whether he should become a federal judge. Some won’t like it, particularly if he’s confirmed. But that’s his due, and if confirmed he’ll prove his critics wrong.
Bob Orr is a former N.C. Supreme Court justice.
The Charlotte Observer