Farr’s Nomination is Trump’s Newest Attack on the Right to Vote
Senators must oppose his nomination.
On April 4, 2013, the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina introduced voter ID legislation. Thom Tillis, then the state’s House Speaker, called the bill a “sweeping effort to improve North Carolina’s voting process.” Less than three months later in June 2013, five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing states like North Carolina with a history of voting discrimination to bypass federal approval for changes to voting laws. By August 2013, the voting legislation hailed by Tillis was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory — now 40 pages longer and the result of “a meticulous and coordinated effort to deter black voters.”
That legislation, known as the state’s “monster voter suppression law,” was struck down in July 2016 by a federal appeals court, which called the law “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow” with provisions that “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Tillis, now a U.S. senator, is scheduled to preside over a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing tomorrow featuring a nominee, Thomas Farr, who has a long history of defending voter suppression efforts. Farr defended North Carolina in court after the state was successfully sued for their role in crafting that racially discriminatory voting law. Farr has also represented clients who tried to dilute African-American voting power by challenging redistricting plans, and he represented the state in a suit alleging North Carolina failed to comply with the National Voter Registration Act in the wake of the 2014 election. Farr also represented Senator Jesse Helms in 1992 when the Helms campaign was sued by the Justice Department for intimidating African-American voters in North Carolina.
Trump’s nomination of Farr is the latest example of this administration’s contempt for voting rights and judicial independence.
The president claimed that he lost the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally. He then created a presidential commission to investigate bogus claims of voter fraud to justify his claim. In its first four months, the Pence-Kobach commission has taken several steps to lay the groundwork for national voter suppression efforts — its agenda couldn’t be clearer.
Just as consequential has been Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. Mr. Sessions was previously rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee for a federal judgeship in part because in 1985 he tried to prosecute three African-American voting rights activists who were working to increase African-American registration and turnout. As a senator, Sessions also praised the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 and has, as Attorney General, overseen a number of disturbing actions to undermine the right to vote.
Under Sessions, the Justice Department overturned the federal government’s position that a Texas voter ID law under legal challenge was intentionally racially discriminatory. The Sessions Justice Department then filed a brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, arguing that it should be easier for states to purge registered voters from their rolls (the opposite position the Justice Department previously took in lower courts in that exact case). And in an unusual move, the voting section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division sent a letter to 44 states forcing them to provide extensive voter information on how they maintain their voter rolls. That request came the same day Trump’s voter suppression commission wrote to all 50 states demanding intrusive and highly sensitive personal data about all registered voters.
Trump’s assault on voting rights is evident not only in these executive branch actions, but also in his judicial nominations. By nominating individuals like Thomas Farr, Trump will impact the ability of federal courts to act as an appropriate check on executive actions to restrict voting rights in America.
This particular seat in the Eastern District of North Carolina is the oldest judicial vacancy in the country. It only remains open today because, under President Obama, Sen. Richard Burr, R. N.C., blocked two highly qualified African-American women, Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, from filling the seat. Had either been confirmed, they would have been the first African American to serve in the 143-year history of the Eastern District, which is 27 percent African-American. In nominating Farr, who is white and a member of the Federalist Society since 1985, Trump is trying to take advantage of their obstruction by appointing someone with a proven record of voter suppression.
Just as Sessions was deemed too extreme three decades ago to serve as a federal judge because of his prosecution of voting rights activists, senators must recognize that Farr’s repeated efforts to restrict voting rights for African Americans should disqualify him from serving on the federal bench — especially in a district with such a large African-American population. Farr should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship — giving him the power to decide important voting rights cases — given his demonstrated commitment to limiting voting rights. It should be noted that Farr has devoted his career not only to restricting voting rights, but also to limiting the rights and remedies available to employment discrimination victims.
Trump may have signed a congressional resolution last week condemning white supremacy, but his actions continue to speak louder than his words. His assault on the right to vote, for communities of color in particular, is a clear pattern — and Farr’s nomination is just the latest example. Senators must reject the Trump administration’s repeated attack on voting rights and oppose the nomination of Thomas Farr.