Trump administration nominating judges who back voter suppression

By Michele Jawando and Billy Corriher

In the last two weeks, three different federal courts have ruled that Texas discriminated against certain voters. This prompted many voting rights advocates to point out that white supremacy does not always come with a white hood or carrying torches in a march. Around the same time, faith leaders around the country launched a “righteous resistance” campaign to highlight and combat efforts to suppress voter participation, particularly among communities of color.

In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, the court rulings were a much-needed reminder that there are still institutions in our government that can stand up to systemic racism. But if President Trump has his way, the courts may no longer serve that role.

On August 16, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas violated the Voting Rights Act by limiting who could serve as an interpreter for voters who do not speak English. A court recently ruled that Texas’ congressional election districts were drawn by the Republican-led state legislature with an intent to “destroy” a district with African American and Latino voters.

Another court ruled last week that Texas’ voter ID law was meant to keep certain voters from casting a ballot. The judge said that legislators allowed voters to use the types of ID that more white voters possessed (such as gun permits), while refusing to allow the types of ID that Latino and black voters were more likely to have (government employee IDs).

This is the eighth time in the past six years that courts have said that Texas discriminated against voters of color. The Supreme Court has recently upheld similar rulings from other states, including a ruling that a 2013 North Carolina voting law targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.” This law created a new voter ID requirement, limited early voting, and imposed other barriers to casting a ballot.

President Trump, however, has nominated a lawyer who defended that North Carolina law to a lifetime seat as a federal judge. The lawyer, Thomas Farr, also defended North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting maps and, in June, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that these maps discriminate against black voters.

Farr obviously does not have a winning record in defending North Carolina’s voting laws in court. And his history of defending voter suppression goes all the way back to 1990, when he defended the campaign of North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms — who opposed civil rights legislation and spoke of “crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes” in 1981 — against charges of intimidating black voters.

President Trump has a record number of empty seats to fill on the federal courts, and he is not wasting time. The Senate recently confirmed a judge with a history of writing blog posts that promoted the racist “birther” conspiracy theory, among other offensive ideas.

Trump and his allies in the Senate have repeatedly cited these new judges, including Justice Neil Gorsuch, as their most significant accomplishment so far. Democratic Senator Chris Coons said that these judges could be “the single most important legacy of the Trump administration.” Senator Coons noted that Trump’s judges “will have a significant impact on the shape and trajectory of American law for decades.”

If the Senate confirms Trump nominees with a history of defending voter suppression, the end result could be a federal judiciary that does not protect voting rights and a Constitution that gives states more leeway to pass laws targeting black or Latino voters. Given the administration’s actions and the raging protests over white supremacy, the Senate should take a hard look at judicial nominees like Farr who have made a career out of defending racial discrimination.

Michele Jawando is the Vice President for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress. Billy Corriher is the Deputy Director for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress.