Thomas Farr and the Radical Remaking of the Federal Judiciary | News

Thomas Farr and the Radical Remaking of the Federal Judiciary

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Last night, the INDY’s Thomas Goldsmith reported that Thomas Farr, the longtime North Carolina Republican lawyer who is now President Trump’s nominee for the federal bench, appears to have lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • “Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr, a nominee for a federal judgeship, knew well in advance about a controversial 1990 postcard campaign designed by Republicans to intimidate blacks who wanted to vote, according to a former Department of Justice investigator. The statements made this week by Gerald Hebert, a federal attorney in 1990, directly contradict Farr's sworn testimony in September before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that he only heard about it after a Justice Department letter responding to the plan.”
  • “Ahead of a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Senator Diane Feinstein, a California Democrat, asked Farr about the postcards in a written questionnaire. ‘While you were serving as lead counsel to the 1990 Helms for Senate Committee, the Justice Department filed a complaint in federal court charging the campaign with intimidating black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Feinstein said, according to a transcript. ‘The complaint alleged that the campaign sent over 100,000 postcards to mainly African-American voters suggesting that they were ineligible to vote and that voting could lead to criminal prosecution for voter fraud. Did you provide any counsel, or were you consulted in any way, about the content of or the decision to send these postcards?’ ‘No,’ Farr replied.”
  • “‘He was certainly involved in the scheme as it was being developed,’ Hebert told this reporter for a 2009 News & Observer story. … ‘We talked to Farr, and he confirmed a lot of what we'd heard,’ Hebert told the INDY Wednesday. ‘I don't think he can really claim that the first he heard of it from a Justice Department letter.’ Yet that’s exactly what he did.”
  • Farr’s nomination, which cleared the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, was already controversial. The Congressional Black Caucus announced its opposition to Farr in September, based on his long record of defending voter suppression in North Carolina, including racial gerrymanders and voter ID laws, as well as his involvement in Helms’s postcard scheme.
  • “‘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,’ Democratic Reps. Butterfield, Richmond, John Conyers of Michigan and Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., wrote in the letter [announcing their opposition].”
  • For more background on Farr, check out this Mother Jones story: “In addition to his defense of new voting restrictions and racial gerrymanders, civil rights groups have sharply criticized Farr for his links to Jesse Helms, a former US senator from the state who once led a 16-day filibuster against naming a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. and was called ‘the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country’ by Washington Post columnist David Broder. Farr served as Helms’ campaign lawyer during his Senate runs in 1984 and 1990, two of the most notoriously racist campaigns in modern American history. In 1990, when Helms faced off against former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, the city’s first black mayor, the North Carolina Republican Party sent 125,000 postcards to predominantly African American households falsely telling them it was a crime to vote if they’d moved within 30 days of the election, with a punishment of ‘up to five years in jail.’”
IN CONTEXT: Farr’s nomination was an affront to North Carolina’s African-American voters for another reason, too. During the Obama administration, Senator Richard Burr—who is supporting Farr’s nomination—blocked the appointment of two undeniably qualified African-American women to this exact seat, which has the longest vacancy in the federal judiciary. But now Republicans have the White House, and Farr’s nomination is part of a much larger push to remake the judiciary in Trump’s right-wing image for generations.
  • “Republican Senators continued their forward march to reshape the judiciary Wednesday, holding hearings for six federal judgeships while also aiming to discredit the nonpartisan review board that has cast doubt on the qualifications of some of President Donald Trump's young and often deeply conservative nominees.”
  • “Some of Trump's nominees for the postings have drawn scrutiny for their qualifications. Brett Talley, a 36-year-old attorney with a legal resume in Alabama and at the Department of Justice has practiced law for only three years and never tried a case. He was advanced out of the committee last week on a party-line vote for a position on an Alabama district court bench. Talley is one of four of Trump's nominees who have received a rare ‘not-qualified’ rating by the American Bar Association, which has been vetting federal judicial nominees since the Eisenhower administration. Talley's not-qualified rating, as well as the rating of Trump's nominee to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, were unanimously decided—a demerit that's only been given two other times since 1989, according to ABA records.” (Farr received a favorable rating for the ABA.)
  • Trump’s appointments also seem to not like LGBTQ people very much. For example: “The most notorious of Trump’s anti-gay judicial nominees is Jeff Mateer, nominated to serve in the Eastern District of Texas. … In 2015, Mateer said in a speech that parents suing on behalf of their transgender children ‘really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on.’ In the same speech, he said regarding same-sex marriage that ‘there’ll be no line there … I mean, it’s disgusting. I’ve learned words I didn’t know … Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets.”
WHAT IT MEANS: It strikes me as unlikely that, given everything else he’s done, fibbing to Judiciary will cost him his seat. Farr’s nomination, after all, is part of a larger plan to stock the federal bench with radical jurists who will tear down civil rights protections for LGBTQ folks and people of color. And Republicans know they don’t have much time: Roy Moore could lose them an easy seat in Alabama next month, and the 2018 elections are shaping up to be a bloodbath. With Trump’s agenda sputtering, this is their best bet at securing a conservative legacy.

This post was excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.


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