In a saner world, Thomas Farr’s nomination to be a federal judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina would have been laughed out of the Senate. Actually, scratch that: It would have never happened. Instead, one of the eminently qualified women of color President Obama nominated for that seat would have been approved instead of being blocked by Senator Richard Burr because of an apparent grudge

But this is not that world. Here, in the darkest timeline, an objectively racist reality TV star is president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken blatant obstructionism and craven politics to a new zenith. So Thomas Farr’s nomination will likely be approved today by fifty senators plus the vice president of the United States, despite having possibly lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee about helping his boss, the segregationist senator Jesse Helms, suppress black votes in 1984 and 1990. 

There is some lingering drama to today’s expected vote. All forty-nine Democrats have said they’ll vote against Farr. So has outgoing senator Jeff Flake, who’s less peeved with the voter suppression thing than he is that McConnell is blocking his bill to protect Robert Mueller. Farr’s fate—at least in this Congress—appears to come down to South Carolina’s Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, who, as of yesterday, is uncommitted. 

A key issue is something the INDY first brought to light last year: In written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Farr said that he had no knowledge of Helms’s postcard campaign in 1990 that sought to intimidate black voters. But the former Department of Justice investigator who probed the matter told our reporter Thomas Goldsmith that wasn’t true. (Lying under oath should be automatically disqualifying, though, as the Brett Kavanaugh hearings taught us, that’s not always the case.) 

Yesterday, The Washington Post obtained and reported on a memo that shed some light on Farr’s role in that scheme. Farr, Helms’s lead campaign lawyer, attended an October 1990 meeting on the “ballot security” postcards—which, as the INDY detailed, were mailed to more than one hundred thousand African Americans to discourage them from voting—in which he “told others that there were a limited number of ballot security initiatives that the groups could undertake at that point in the race, according to the memo,” the Post reports. “… During the meeting, participants also reviewed the Helms campaign’s 1984 ballot security effort Farr had coordinated ‘with an eye toward the activities that should be undertaken in 1990,’ the DOJ wrote in the memo. The document did not say directly whether the controversial postcards were discussed as part of that effort, and Farr has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge of those mailers.”

The DOJ memo, in other words, is inconclusive as to perjury, though we know Farr was at a meeting in which the “ballot-security” effort was discussed. But even giving Farr every benefit of the doubt about that 1990 meeting—and there’s no reason to do that—even a casual look at his record shows he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the bench. 

This district court’s jurisdiction spans forty-four counties, of which blacks make up more than a quarter of the population. Yet it’s never had a black judge. In Farr, it will get not only have another white guy but a white guy who’s spent years trying to keep black people from voting. 

Whether he lied to the committee or not, Farr knew what Helms’s “ballot security” ploys were all about. Helms’s 1984 and 1990 campaigns were defined by his racist dog-whistles—first in filibustering the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and accusing the civil rights leader of “action-oriented Marxism” in his 1984 race against Governor Jim Hunt, whom he also accused of being supported by “homosexuals, the labor-union bosses and the crooks,” The Washington Post reported. At the time, Helms also said he feared a “large bloc vote.” By “bloc vote,” Helms later admitted, he meant “black vote.” 

The 1990 campaign against Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt featured the notoriously racist “Hands” ad. Even longtime Helms hand Carter Wrenn has admitted as much, telling NPR in 2012 it “was absolutely a racial ad. That was the race card. … I’ve been in the room when we played racist politics. … We played the race card and I’m not proud of it.”

YouTube video

This is the same Jesse Helms who, in 1993, got into an elevator with black Democratic senator Carol Moseley Braun after she debated Helms over the Confederate flag, started singing “Dixie,” and told another senator, “I’m going to keep singing ‘Dixie’ until she cries.” Upon his retirement in 2001, Washington Post columnist David Broder called Helms “the last unabashed white racist politician in this country.” 

This is the guy Thomas Farr chose to work for and helped to get elected. Even if Farr never had Helms’s propensity for racist bombast, he was a key player on a racist team, and that alone should tell you all you need to know. 

But put Helms to the side for a minute, and look at what Farr has done since the old bigot became wormfood

In 2011, the newly empowered Republican General Assembly hired Farr to defend its obscenely gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts, which deliberately minimized the black vote to lock in huge GOP advantages. Federal courts have since struck down those districts as unconstitutional and ordered the legislature to redraw them, but we’re still living in their aftermath: In this year’s midterms, Democrats won more legislative votes than Republicans but will still be in the minority. 

Farr wasn’t done there: In 2013, he helped defend the legislature’s voter ID law, which was also struck down, with a federal court famously ruling that it “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision.” 

Then there’s Farr’s history with workers’ rights, which is no less awful than his repeated work on behalf of institutionalized racism. A labor attorney, Farr supported a clause in HB 2 that blocked employees from suing in state court if they were fired on account of race, gender, religion, or age. And earlier in his career, as the liberal group People for the American Way points out, “he was an attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a right-wing organization that strongly opposes workers’ efforts to negotiate fair terms of employment and exercise their legal rights through unions.” 

A problem with our increasingly tribal politics is that truly mephitic things can be dismissed as routine partisan machinations: Of course Democrats and liberal groups oppose President Trump’s nominee and say he’s a racist, the argument goes. They would say the same about anyone the president nominates. 

There’s some truth in that. Democrats would probably oppose any Republican nominee for this seat, if only for payback for the way Republicans refused to consider Obama’s nominees—thus keeping that seat vacant for twelve years—which might itself be payback for Senate Democrats blocking Farr’s nomination by President George W. Bush in 2006. Such is politics.

But it doesn’t elide the fact that Farr is a singularly offensive nominee, whose very nomination is a presidential middle finger to North Carolina’s African Americans.  

As the Congressional Black Caucus told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “It is no exaggeration to say that had the White House deliberately sought to identify an attorney in North Carolina with a more hostile record on African-American voting rights and workers’ rights than Thomas Farr, it could hardly have done so.” 

In most cases, such pointed statements could easily be brushed aside as political hyperbole. But here, it’s indisputably accurate. The facts are these: Both as an employee of an avowedly racist senator and in private practice, Farr has repeatedly defended deliberate and illegal efforts to keep black people from the polls and dilute the power of their votes. Whether he’s done this because he himself is racist, or because he wanted his party to reap political benefits, or because he was merely doing his job is irrelevant. His actions are what they are, they speak for themselves, and they make him manifestly unfit for the judiciary. 

In a saner world, those actions would make a lifetime judicial appointment for Thomas Farr unfathomable. But in this world—in which the Republican president and his party are making common cause with white nationalists—Farr will get a vote this afternoon, and there’s a good chance he’ll be a federal judge sooner than later.