The Pulse

Trump nominee Farr could be confirmed to Eastern District judgeship by end of year

By: - November 16, 2018 7:30 am
Raleigh attorney Thomas Farr could be confirmed by the end of the year to the federal bench in Eastern North Carolina

Prominent GOP attorney Thomas Farr could be confirmed to a lifetime federal judge seat in Eastern North Carolina by the end of the year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Thursday on Farr’s and Jonathan Kobes’ judicial nominations.

The U.S. District Court judgeship for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant for nearly 13 years and has long been referred to as a judicial emergency.

Farr’s nomination has been deeply opposed by voting rights activists and organizations and legal stakeholders across the country. The debate about his fitness for the job has been ongoing, and cloture is a process by which McConnell seeks to end that debate and take a vote.

The NAACP strongly condemns Farr’s nomination and the Senate’s scheduling of his vote.

“The nation just experienced national elections which are not yet over and which were tainted by egregious voting rights violations,” a news release from the organization states. “That Majority Leader McConnell chooses this moment in time to vote on a judicial nominee known as the vote-suppressor-in-chief is not lost on anyone. It is a slap in the face to communities of color everywhere.”

Farr, the release states, poses a serious threat to civil rights, especially since he would preside over a jurisdiction with a large African-American population.

A Raleigh based attorney, Farr frequently represents the state’s Republican party in voting rights cases. He has been lead counsel for the GOP in redistricting cases and in the voter identification law challenge.

He was nominated by President Donald Trump last year and again this year, and if he’s not confirmed by the end of the year, he could be nominated again.

“Even among dangerous Trump nominees, Farr stands out for his decades-long crusade to disenfranchise African Americans,” the NAACP wrote. “He learned how to intimidate Black voters from segregationist Senator Jesse Helms and helped turn North Carolina into ground zero for voter suppression tactics. His nomination is a travesty. His confirmation would be heresy.”

The Eastern District of North Carolina serves 44 counties and has a combined Black population of nearly 30 percent. A black judge has never been appointed to serve on the bench, despite Obama’s nominations of Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson — two very accomplished Black women. N.C. Sen. Richard Burr blocked both nominations.

Sen. Thom Tillis serves on the Judiciary Committee

He backs Farr, though. As does fellow N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis, who told the News and Observer that he looks forward to the floor vote.

“We urge each and every Senator to reject this judicial throwback to white supremacy and segregation,” the NAACP news release states. “The people of North Carolina and our entire country deserve better than this.”

People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker said Thursday that if McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) were looking to “illustrate their reckless and irresponsible approach to rubber stamping Trump’s dangerous judicial nominations, they couldn’t do much better” than Farr and Kobes.

Baker described both nominees as grossly unqualified for lifetime seats on the federal bench.

“Thomas Farr has been the go-to litigator for attacks on the right to vote in North Carolina,” she said in an emailed statement. “He defended the state’s aggressive campaign to disenfranchise voters in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision, its gerrymandered districts, and its efforts to throw up obstacles for eligible voters trying to register. A federal judge reviewing one law Farr defended noted that it targeted African American voters ‘with almost surgical precision.’ He also rushed to defend the state’s so-called bathroom law targeting transgender people.”

She also said a majority of the American Bar Association’s standing committee on judicial selection found Kobes to be “unqualified” for a seat on the federal bench given his paltry record.

“But he has political connections, which is all Senator Grassley needed to whisk him through the committee — again on a party line vote,” Baker wrote. “For Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, cronyism trumps responsibility every time.

She added that they may have the votes to confirm Farr and Kobes, but they can’t hide their record of “good-old-boy politics and contempt for the rights of people of color.”

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Melissa Boughton

Melissa Boughton worked as the Courts and Law Reporter at NC Policy Watch from 2016 to 2020.