On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence used his tie-breaking vote to approve cloture, or ending debate, on the nomination of Thomas Farr for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
All 49 Democrats in the lame-duck session and retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) voted against cloture, while the remaining Republicans voted to end debate on Farr’s nomination. Pence’s tie-breaking vote all but ensures that Farr will be confirmed, despite some misgivings about his views on civil rights.
Farr has been severely criticized by civil rights groups, as well as LGBTQ organizations and left-leaning advocacy groups, for his defense of the North Carolina legislature’s various machinations involving limiting access to voting, gerrymandering with racial intent, and pursuing policies that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said “target[ed] African American voters with almost surgical precision.”
Farr was also criticized for his defense of former Sen. Jesse Helms’ 1990 re-election campaign after it was accused of voter intimidation for sending postcards threatening African-American voters with jail if they tried to vote in a precinct in which they had lived for fewer than 30 days.
“Advancing Farr’s nomination is a disgrace and senators who support him should be ashamed,” Vanita Gupta, the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. “Farr’s history of restricting voting rights, defending employment discrimination, and backing white supremacists disqualify him from a lifetime seat on the federal bench.
“Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues his attack on civil and human rights by ushering in another Trump loyalist, seeking to further undermine the impartiality of our federal courts,” Gupta added. “The fact that Vice President Pence had to break a tie indicates the extreme measures to which McConnell must go to push this controversial nominee forward. This is a battle for the soul of our nation. Our senators must place country over party and protect civil and human rights for all by rejecting Farr’s nomination.”
Lambda Legal’s Legal Director and Chief Strategy Officer, Sharon McGowan, also denounced Farr’s nomination for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.
“Thomas Farr has spent his career defending discriminatory voter ID laws that target African Americans ‘with almost surgical precision.’ Access to the ballot box should be open to all, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” McGowan said in a statement. “Thomas Farr’s attempts to infringe upon and thwart the right to vote for African Americans in North Carolina is a threat to everyone’s democracy.”
Farr’s expected confirmation foreshadows a problem for left-leaning advocacy groups, who have relied on the Republicans’ narrow 51-49 edge and courting moderate or independent Republicans like Flake, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) to defeat controversial nominees. But with the addition of two additional Senators following this year’s midterm elections, Republicans will now hold a 53-47 edge in the upper chamber.
That means that Democrats would not only have to keep all members of their caucus together — something that is never a certainty — but could even sway Murkowski and Collins to their side and still see federal judicial nominees they find objectionable, like Farr, easily confirmed.