North Carolina

Confirmation vote on Thomas Farr postponed to next week

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Thomas Farr is sworn in 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 in Washington.
FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Thomas Farr is sworn in 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 in Washington. AP Photo

The Senate postponed to next week the confirmation vote on Raleigh attorney Thomas Farr to be a federal judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The vote was scheduled for noon Thursday, but shortly after 11 a.m. it was moved due to the absence of Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, due to a family situation that required him to be in Oklahoma, his spokeswoman said in an email.

A divided Senate on Wednesday advanced Farr’s nomination to fill a judgeship on the U.S. District Court in the eastern district. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote during Wednesday’s procedural vote. Without Inhofe — or another Republican — Farr’s confirmation likely would have failed.

The seat has been open since the Jan. 1, 2006, retirement of Malcolm J. Howard. Farr was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006 and 2007, but never received a vote. President Barack Obama nominated two African-American women for the court, but neither received a vote. Farr was nominated for the seat by President Donald Trump in 2017 and again in 2018.

The district covers 44 counties stretching from Raleigh to the Atlantic coast. The population of the district is 27 percent African-American, and no black judge has ever been seated on the court.

Farr’s nomination was bitterly contested by Democrats, all of whom voted against the nomination Thursday, and civil rights groups, who cited Farr’s work for former Sen. Jesse Helms and more recent work defending North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers in lawsuits over voter ID and gerrymandering. Critics have called Farr hostile to voting rights.

“Thomas Farr is not fit to serve. He has a long, long history of being hostile to voting rights and voter suppression,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Farr’s supporters, including North Carolina Republican Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, have pointed to his “well qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. Tillis said Democrats engaged in a “Kavanaugh-esque attempt to discredit him,” referencing the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh who faced allegations of decades-old sexual assault during his confirmation hearing.

“He’s going to be a good judge, and I think he’s been unfairly treated,” Tillis said.

A panel of federal judges said the 2013 voter ID law targeted African-American voters with “almost surgical precision,” striking it down.

Helms’ 1990 re-election campaign against former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt, who is black, included charges of voter intimidation for postcards mailed to primarily black voters warning of possible arrest at the polls.

The Department of Justice investigated the voter intimidation claims and settled with the Helms campaign in a consent decree. Farr said he took part in meetings about “ballot security,” but was not aware of and did not participate in the postcards.

Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican and the only black Republican in the Senate, called Farr on Wednesday and spoke with the author of a Department of Justice memo obtained by The Washington Post this week before casting his vote to advance Farr on Wednesday. Scott also spoke with Obama appointees about Farr.

“If he was the architect of that nasty, racist campaign, I would have been a ‘no’ without question. What I found so far from appointees of the Obama administration to my conversations with the author of the memo is that he was in fact not the architect of the campaign and that the character witnesses from the Obama administration coming forward on behalf of Tom Farr have been pretty strong,” Scott told Fox News Channel’s “Fox News at Night” on Wednesday.

But Scott told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday that “there are a lot of folks that can be judges in states including North Carolina besides Tom Farr.”

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.
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