One of the Republican Party’s worst vote suppressors is about to become a federal judge
The Senate is expect to vote this week on whether to confirm Thomas Farr, a lawyer who helped draft what may be the most aggressive voter suppression law since Jim Crow, to a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. And it is very likely that Republicans have just barely enough votes to prevail.
Although all 49 members of the Senate Democratic caucus oppose Farr, and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) says he will vote against all judicial nominees unless the Senate holds a vote on a bill intended to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Republicans appear likely to hold onto the 50 senators they need to put Farr on the bench.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who occasionally breaks with her caucus, says she will support the nomination. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AR), another occasional defector, says she “doesn’t plan on blocking” Farr’s nomination.
Farr helped draft a 2013 North Carolina law which combined many voter suppression tactics favored by Republican state lawmakers. A federal appeals court later struck down this law, explaining that it targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
As the court explained, the state legislature “requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.” The law’s drafters then used this data to tailor the law to increase its impact on black voters and decrease its impact on whites. The state, for example, “amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans” while simultaneously retaining “only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.”
Farr also worked as an attorney for the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), a longtime segregationist who retained his racist beliefs late in life. In 1990, while Farr worked for him, Helms’ campaign sent postcards to 125,000 North Carolinians, most of them lawful African American voters, implying that they were not eligible to vote and could face criminal charges if they did.
Farr claimed that he had no involvement with this effort, but a former Justice Department attorney says that Farr advised the campaign on this plot. The nominee later admitted that he attended a “ballot security” meeting but claims that he did not discuss the postcards.
Fittingly, if Farr is confirmed, he will owe his confirmation to anti-democratic flaws in the Constitution itself. Donald Trump, who nominated Farr, received 2,864,974 fewer votes than Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. In the current Senate, the Democratic “minority” represents almost 40 million more people than the Republican “majority.”
And even if Farr is defeated in the current Senate, Republicans will gain seats in the next Senate — despite the fact that the electorate overwhelmingly favored Democrats in the last election. So even if Farr is temporarily defeated, he is likely to be confirmed shortly by a body that is only slightly more democratic than the British House of Lords.