In a demonstration of the power of President Donald Trump to recast the federal judiciary in a conservative direction, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday moved to the Senate floor the nomination of Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr to a federal judgeship.
Taken as debate over the national budget and DACA raged around Congress, the vote means that
Farr now only needs the approval of the full Senate to win a lifetime appointment to the Eastern District Court of North Carolina. His nomination comes with approval from the state's U.S. senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, but also with pointed disapproval from civil rights and labor-rights groups.
Federal judicial nominee Thomas Farr, of Raleigh
Opponents cited Farr's past association with U.S. Senator Jesse Helms and his role as an advocate for North Carolina legislation on voting rights that federal courts have found discriminatory against African Americans. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Representative G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, attended Thursday's meetings to oppose a positive vote on Farr.
"I strongly opposed Tom Farr's nomination last year and I will oppose it this year," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and ranking member of the committee.
Senator Thom Tillis again served as an advocate for Farr.
"I believe that Tom Farr is going to make a good judge," Tillis said, dismissing criticisms from advocacy groups and media accounts that raised questions about the candidate. "I'm going to proudly support his nomination."
Senate Judiciary Committee
Sen. Kamal Harris, (D-Calif.) speaks to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 18, 2018, in opposition to the nomination of Thomas Farr to a federal judgeship in Eastern North Carolina. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), right, and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, at left, also opposed the nomination.
Feinstein and every other Democratic committee member spoke in opposition to Farr—named to the seat by Trump in July—and other nominees, all of whom were approved.
Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, asked committee chairman Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, to schedule another hearing for Farr so that new committee members Booker and Senator Kamala Harris could question Farr.
Grassley refused, saying that members had had an adequate chance to learn more about Farr.
"We have not had a chance to question him about what seems to be misleading testimony," given to Feinstein, Booker said.
Booker was referring to a controversy over whether Farr misled the committee
in his written answers to questions about his involvement in a postcard mailing waged by the 1990 campaign of Senator Jesse Helms, which Farr represented.
Feinstein cited the failure of Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, African Americans who were nominated to the same post but never receives a hearing before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. Feinstein also cited Farr's work in defending the legality of voting laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly. Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said lawyers who support state legislation in the courts should not have their advocacy held against them.
Democratic senators singled Farr out when criticizing many among more than twenty Trump administration nominees before the committee Thursday.
"I think Thomas Farr is probably the worst of the litter," said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.
"I looked at his record, I looked at his work on political campaigns that engaged in openly racist tactics," said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. "We cannot have a time when white voters are allowed, black voters are not. In my family, we don't believe in this, and I will vote no."
Booker and Harris, the first African American members of the committee in decades, spoke strongly against Farr's nomination.