U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Friday she's "disturbed greatly" by the INDY’s report that Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr
wasn't truthful with her in committee hearings on the federal judgeship for which he was nominated by President Trump.
In addition, two national nonprofit advocacy groups, Alliance for Justice and Lambda Legal, called for new Judiciary Committee hearings on Farr and
Alabama nominee Brett Talley—an inexperienced lawyer and former paranormal investigator
who is married to a senior White House lawyer—in light of new information.
Farr, sixty-three, was picked by Trump to become a federal district judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina this year. In Farr's response to questions from Feinstein, he said he had didn't learn in advance of the more than one hundred thousand postcards the late Senator Jesse Helms's U.S. Senate campaign sent to primarily to African-American voters in 1990, insinuating that they would be arrested if they voted. In his role as campaign counsel, Farr said, his first knowledge came in a complaint about the cards from the federal Department of Justice.
The Judiciary Committee voted along partisan lines in October to send Farr's nomination to the full Senate, but no time has been set for a vote.
The Helms campaign was working feverishly in October 1990 to defeat former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt, an African American. (This was the campaign that produced the notoriously racist “Hands” ad
.) Farr has long said he had no role in sending the postcards. But a former Department of Justice prosecutor repeated to the INDY
this week what he had told this reporter in 2009—that Farr knew about the postcards well in advance of the mailing, which implies that he misled the Senate committee about his involvement.
Farr has not responded to requests for comment from the INDY
. But Raleigh political consultant Carter Wrenn, a Farr colleague from Helms campaigns in the eighties and nineties, has taken responsibility for the mailers and insisted that Farr wasn’t involved.
In more recent years, Farr has also defended North Carolina Republicans’ racial gerrymandering and voter ID efforts
, which has aroused the ire of civil rights groups.
“I voted against Tom Farr in committee because his record doesn't indicate that he would protect the voting rights of all Americans," Feinstein said in a statement released to the INDY
today. "Media reports indicate that he was not truthful in his response to my question about his involvement in the Jesse Helms’s campaign voter suppression efforts. This disturbs me greatly. Nominees must be forthright with the Judiciary Committee. These are lifetime appointments we’re talking about. We're currently evaluating how best to proceed in light of this new information.”
North Carolina's Republican senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, strongly recommended Farr’s appointment to the federal bench when he appeared before the committee in September.
“I am pleased to see Thomas Farr’s nomination move one step closer to confirmation, and I look forward to his swift approval by the full Senate in order to fill this important vacancy,” Burr said. “Tom will undoubtedly serve the people of North Carolina well for many years to come.”
Burr cited Farr's experience and qualifications, including handling appeals at "all levels of the North Carolina appellate courts, the Fourth and Sixth Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court."
The Lambda Legal Fund is a national advocacy group of LGBTQ people and those with HIV, and the Alliance for Justice speaks for one hundred liberal groups with a stake in federal judgeships. In statements Friday, the groups joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
, which called Thursday for a reexamination of the nominations of Farr and
“We did not send our senators to Washington to be a rubber stamp for every single one of Donald Trump’s nominations to the federal bench," says Sharon McGowan, director of strategy
at Lambda Legal. "Each of
these nominees is
up for a lifetime appointment, which means they will be able to impact the rights of generations of Americans to come."
Farr has been named to the federal Eastern North Carolina seat twice before, in 2006 and 2007, but the Senate did not move the nomination forward either time. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman
and an Iowa Republican, would have to call Farr or Talley to return to the committee for further testimony.
"It is vital that the Senate Judiciary Committee call
for both Farr and Talley to return to Capitol Hill to answer questions about any omissions and misrepresentations they have made," says Alliance for Justice president Nan Aron. "This is a test for Chairman Grassley on whether he will stand up for the Senate’s independent role and make clear that there are consequences in misleading the Senate, or whether he will continue to act as nothing more than a rubber stamp."
Feinstein, in her fourth full Senate term, is the most prominent public figure to ask for a reconsideration of Farr's bid.
Additional reporting by Erica Hellerstein.