Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Editorial: Burr, Tillis failed state in partisan support for flawed judicial candidate

The Winston-Salem Journal takes Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to task for their blind and partisan support of Thomas Farr to be a US district judge in North Carolina.

The editorial board explains in its latest editorial:

Thomas Farr (L) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R)

Thomas A. Farr was a woefully bad choice to be a federal district judge in North Carolina.

Thank goodness Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, stood up for principle over blind party loyalty and announced that he would oppose Farr’s nomination. With all 49 Democrats in the Senate and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake also unwilling to vote for Farr, Scott’s opposition was all it took to sink the nomination.

Flake is opposing all of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations until the Senate votes on a bill to protect special counsels, but he’s on record as saying he would have opposed Farr anyway. Principle is something that seems to be lacking among many Senate Republicans these days.

Where were North Carolina’s two senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, when news emerged recently about a 1991 Justice Department memo written under President George H.W. Bush — a memo that raises serious concerns about Farr’s role in racially discriminatory tactics used in Jesse Helms’ campaigns for Senate from North Carolina? They were holding firm in their support of Farr, no matter what.

Civil rights groups and others were already opposing Farr’s nomination before the memo surfaced, because of his work helping to discourage minority voters. Republicans who controlled the N.C. General Assembly hired Farr and his law firm to defend the congressional boundaries they drew in 2011 — boundaries that were eventually struck down by a federal court as racial gerrymandering. Farr also defended the 2013 N.C. voter ID law that was found to target minority voters.

Supporters in the U.S. Senate said Farr should not be judged on the basis of positions he was hired to defend. Then the 1991 memo, suggesting that Farr, as the leading lawyer for Helms’ Senate bid in 1990, had a role in devising the campaign’s controversial “ballot security” voter-suppression efforts, raised serious questions about his fitness for a lifetime appointment.

Yet Farr’s home-state senators, Burr and Tillis, still supported his nomination, making it easier for their fellow Republicans to do the same. Rather than backing a highly questionable nominee, the senators should rise above pure partisanship and work to find a good nominee for the Eastern Judicial District, which includes 44 counties from Raleigh eastward.

That judgeship has the unwelcome distinction of having been empty for nearly 13 years — the longest-lasting judicial vacancy in U.S. history. The empty seat has caused a massive backlog of cases, especially civil cases. Farr first surfaced as a nominee under President George W. Bush in 2006. That nomination went nowhere, for good reason. During his two terms, President Barack Obama tried twice to fill the seat. He nominated two well-qualified African-American women, Jennifer May Parker and, later, Patricia Timmons-Goodson. Burr blocked both. Burr’s actions are especially troubling given that the Eastern District has never had an African-American judge even though more than a quarter of its residents are black.

Then, when Trump took office, Farr’s nomination resurfaced. Who knows? With Republican gains in the Senate, the nomination might resurface next year.

Rather than stubbornly backing a flawed nominee, Burr and Tillis should encourage Trump to nominate a worthy candidate for the seat. They should do the right thing.

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