Trump’s America: Reshaping the federal judiciary in NC

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Thomas Alvin Farr is sworn in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the confirmation of Thomas Farr, a Republican lawyer notorious for defending voter suppression laws, to a lifetime appointment on the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on Thursday. His confirmation would fill a seat open since 2005, the longest judicial vacancy in our nation’s history, according to NC Policy Watch.

Farr, originally nominated by George W. Bush in 2006, stands in stark contrast to Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, the two black women former President Obama nominated for the same seat during his tenure. Though Census data shows the territory is 27 percent African-American, no black judge has ever resided on the bench. This reality makes Farr’s nomination even more disturbing given his legal career.

In 1992, the Justice Department filed a complaint against former NC senator Jesse Helms’ 1990 re-election campaign for intimidating black voters. Farr happily defended the man that the Washington Post once called one of “the last prominent unabashed white racist politicians in this country.” The Helms campaign settled the suit while denying fault, according to the New York Times. His law partner of three decades, Thomas Ellis, is a segregationist who — also according to the Times — suggested North Carolina shut down public schools rather than participate in integration efforts in the wake of Brown vs. the Board of Education and served as director of the Pioneer Fund from 1973 to 1977, an organization that rabidly supported eugenics research for nearly half a century.

More recently, the state of North Carolina hired Farr in 2011 to defend its worst-in-the-nation voter-suppression law that required voter ID, cut early voting, and eliminated same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and pre-registration for high school students.

The federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the 1aw, concluding that it targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision” and characterizing it as “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”

Despite this history, North Carolina’s two Republican senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis support Farr’s confirmation. Tillis sits on the committee considering Farr’s nomination, and Burr introduced him at his nomination hearing last month.

So, while the current administration is largely deemed a failure in terms of passing legislation, it’s clear that racist white operatives scattered across all levels of government aim to suppress the public — especially those who might not align with them politically — in the courts, at the polls and beyond. Their scheme seems to be paying off, and Farr’s likely confirmation would be just the latest part of this onslaught.