President Donald Trump’s controversial nomination of Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr as a federal district judge in Eastern North Carolina goes before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.
If the committee OKs his nomination, Farr would only require a vote by the full Senate to assume the influential post. North Carolina’s U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, have praised Farr as an expert lawyer and, in Burr’s case, as “a good man,” a phrase he used before the committee’s first consideration of Farr in October.
Emails to Farr, Burr, and Tillis seeking comment were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Farr’s nomination has brought controversy in part because of his role advocating for laws passed by the state General Assembly involving redistricting plans and a voter ID bill that courts have found in violation of African Americans’ voting rights.
Critics have also cited Farr’s past association as the lawyer for the 1984 and 1992 campaigns for Senator Jesse Helms, both of which included postcard campaigns aimed at intimidating African American voters, according to federal court findings and contemporary accounts.
In addition, a former Department of Justice lawyer has told the INDY that Farr had more involvement in the campaigns than he reported to Senator Dianne Feinstein in written answers to questions about the postcards. Opponents to the nomination include the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund.
The Reverend William Barber II, former head of the state NAACP, has emerged as a high-profile critic of Farr, penning op-ed pieces opposing his nomination in The New York Times and Time magazine. Wednesday, he called for voters to reject Tillis in his reelection campaign this year because of the senator’s support of Farr.
“The nomination of Thomas Farr is an attempt to place a major policy architect of systemic racism on the courts,” Barber said in a statement to the INDY. “Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, who blocked two black women from getting a hearing, are the first to blame for this nomination coming before the judiciary.
Trump further exposes his racism by pushing the nomination forward.”
President Barack Obama nominated Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, both African Americans, to the federal judgeship in eastern North Carolina, but neither got a hearing before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. Farr has twice before been nominated to the same post but did not get a hearing in those cases.
The committee has two new members since the last session of Congress, during which then-committee member Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, resigned in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct. The new members are Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who has criticized Farr’s nomination, and Senator Kamala Harris, a California Democrat.
Trump nominated Farr in July, but the Senate returned the nomination to the White House in December. Trump renominated him this month.
The committee website lists the names of twenty-one people who have been nominated by President Trump to be considered by all members in an executive business meeting. Fourteen, like Farr, will be considered as nominees for federal district judgeships. Others have been nominated as federal circuit court judges, U.S. attorneys, and U.S. marshals.
Erica Hellerstein contributed reporting.