Lawyer who defended NC’s racist voting law could soon be federal judge

Whoever said voter suppression doesn’t pay off?

A Senate committee voted Thursday to advance the judicial nomination of the Republican lawyer who North Carolina turned to to defend its racially discriminatory voting law — the one found to have “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision” — as well as several other controversial voting policies.

The Senate Judiciary Committee vote to approve the nomination of Thomas Farr (pictured) to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina was on party lines. The nomination will now go to the full Senate.

Not a single Republican has voted against any of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, and Farr has the support of both North Carolina’s Republican senators, making it likely he’ll be confirmed.

One of those senators, Thom Tillis, played a key role in passing North Carolina’s 2013 voting law as the Speaker of the North Carolina House. It’s common for senators to suggest nominees for vacant federal judgeships in their states.

Farr works for an outside law firm, Ogletree Deakins, that was hired to defend North Carolina’s voting policies. That means he wasn’t simply doing his job, as he would have been had he been employed directly by the state. Rather, he actively chose to take these cases on.

“We are cognizant of the fact that an attorney should not be held responsible for the conduct or claims of his or her clients,” wrote Vanita Gupta, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a letter sent Monday to senators opposing Farr’s confirmation. “But in the case of Mr. Farr, the anti-civil rights positions he has advanced on behalf of clients for decades appear to reflect his own personal ideology.”

Farr led the defense of North Carolina’s voting law, which was likely the most restrictive in the country. It imposed a photo ID requirement, cut early voting days, and eliminated same-day voter registration, among other steps. Noting that all those moves disproportionately affect blacks, a federal appeals court last year found that the law had been passed with the intent to discriminate, writing that the provisions “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Farr appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which declined to take up the case.

Farr also defended North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative districts, both of which were declared by federal courts to be racial gerrymanders that aimed to dilute the voting power of the state’s black residents.

And Farr defended North Carolina when it was sued by civil rights groups over its restrictive voter registration policies. A federal judge granted an injunction that required the state to accept the applications of voters who registered at DMVs, rejecting Farr’s arguments.

President Barack Obama nominated two candidates for the judgeship, both African-American women, but neither received a vote in the Senate. The district has never had an African-American judge, though nearly 30 percent of its residents are black.

Farr himself was nominated previously for the judgeship by President George W. Bush in 2006, but his nomination never received a vote either.

 

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