Thomas Farr, a Trump judicial nominee whose record on voting rights and other civil rights issues has come under scrutiny, moved one step closer to confirmation Wednesday with the Senate advancing his nomination in a procedural vote.
Vice President Mike Pence was at the Capitol Thursday to break a 50-50 tie on moving Farr’s nomination forward. All 49 Senate Democrats are opposed to Farr, and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voted “no” as part of his vow to stymie all judicial nominees until there is a vote on legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.
The vote was not without some suspense. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Republicans’ only African American in the Senate who had previously helped sink another judicial nominee for racially-charged writings, didn’t show up until nearly an hour after the vote was called to support advancing Farr.
Democrats and civil rights groups are hoping to flip one more Republican to sink Farr before his final vote in the days to come.
President Trump nominated Farr to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
A panel of judges on an appeals court overseeing the state struck down a North Carolina elections law that Farr, as a lawyer for the legislature’s GOP leaders, helped write and defend. The judges found that the law intentionally discriminated against minority voters with “almost surgical precision.”
In drafting the legislation, North Carolina Republicans sought certain election data broken down by race, and passed restrictions that had a disproportionate affect on minority voters.
Farr also defended in court the legislative maps drawn by North Carolina Republicans for Congress and the state legislature. The state legislative map was called by one panel of judges “among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-SC), who served in the North Carolina statehouse when it passed its restrictive voting law, wrote an op-ed defending Farr from the attacks about his representation of the legislature on those matters.
“This is a break from the bipartisan tradition that we do not hold lawyers accountable for the clients they represent and any animus one may harbor against them,” Tillis wrote.
Additionally, questions have been raised about Farr’s time working for the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), a vocal opponent of civil rights law. Farr defended Helms when his 1990 re-election campaign faced a voter intimidation complaint from the Justice Department for sending postcards to 125,000 North Carolinians, most of them eligible black voters, claiming that they were ineligible to vote and would face prosecution it they tried.
Farr denied involvement in the decision to send the postcards and told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was “appalled” by their language. However, an attorney working for the Justice Department at the time has recalled a conversation he had with Farr in which he believed Farr expressed awareness of the postcards before the DOJ sent its complaint.
Earlier this year, another judicial nominee of Trump’s, Ryan Bounds, was defeated in a Senate floor vote over his racially-charged writings. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Scott banded together to sink that nomination. Rubio has said he will support Farr. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) had not announced whether he supported Farr before Wednesday’s vote.
Eyes are also on Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a more moderate Republican who has broken with her party on nominations in the past. Her spokeswoman said Tuesday that Murkowski “does not intend to block” Farr, a statement interpreted to be a reference to Wednesday’s procedural vote that left room for speculation as to whether the senator would support Farr on the final confirmation vote.
Murkowski was “still asking questions” about the nominee, her spokeswoman told reporters on Tuesday.