RALEIGH, N.C. — A prominent legal defender of North Carolina voting restrictions ultimately struck down by a court as racially biased said Wednesday that his future decisions as a federal judge wouldn’t ignore that ruling if he is confirmed to the bench.
Nominated by President Donald Trump in July to a U.S. District Court judgeship vacant for more than 11 years, Thomas Farr has been in the thick of voting rights litigation this decade. Farr and his law firm colleagues helped Republican legislators defend the 2013 state law that mandated photo identification to vote and reduced the number of early voting days.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down these and other voting changes, finding they targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” Farr also defended in court the 2011 congressional and legislative redistricting maps, which judges also threw out for having illegal racial gerrymanders.
Farr is backed strongly by North Carolina’s two Republican U.S. senators in the GOP-controlled Senate. Black congressional leaders said this week his nomination should be rejected.
Responding to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Farr said he disagreed with the 4th Circuit panel that ruled GOP lawmakers intentionally discriminated against black voters with the voter ID law. Still, he said he would follow the ruling if he became a judge.
“The 4th Circuit decision is binding on everyone and as a judge I would have to follow it and I will follow it,” Farr told Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota during a confirmation hearing for Farr and four other judicial nominees. “But at the time our clients enacted those laws, I do not believe that they thought that were purposefully discriminating against African Americans.”
Farr, a Raleigh employment and constitutional law attorney, would fill an eastern North Carolina judgeship vacant since Judge Malcolm Howard moved to semi-retirement status at the end of 2005. It’s the longest federal judicial vacancy in the country, according to data on a federal court website.
Farr was initially nominated to the judgeship in 2006 by President George W. Bush and again in 2007, but his nomination never got a vote in the judiciary committee. President Barack Obama later nominated two black female attorneys to fill Howard’s vacancy, but neither received a hearing.
No vote was taken Wednesday on the five nominees by the committee. Farr’s confirmation didn’t appear in danger of getting blocked.
North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who presided over Wednesday’s meeting aired on the committee’s website, said Farr is “widely respected as one of the best legal minds in North Carolina.”
“Knowing him personally I can attest that he has the requisite expertise, character and judgment required for the federal bench,” added North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who presented Farr to the committee. Both cited that Farr had support from individuals of both parties and received a “well-qualified” rating from the American Bar Association as a nominee.
A letter signed by the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and others, including U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Farr’s nomination. Farr’s legal career also included working as a Senate committee attorney and representing former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms’ campaign.
Farr’s “record raises serious questions regarding his commitment to equal justice under the law that disqualifies him from service on the federal bench,” the letter said.