11.28.18

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Confirmation Vote of Thomas Alvin Farr To the Eastern District of North Carolina

Senate Floor

Our constitutional obligation as Senators is to provide advice and informed consent to a President’s nominees.  I do my best to scrutinize each nominee on the merits, regardless of party, and decide whether they deserve a lifetime appointment to our esteemed federal bench.  And during my 44 years in the Senate, I have voted for more Republican nominated judges than almost all Republican Senators in this body today.

The simple fact is, given his track record of working to systematically dismantle the franchise for thousands of African American voters, Thomas Farr is one of the most controversial nominees I have ever encountered.  Someone who has made a career out of attacking a sacred, constitutional right — indeed, the right that gives democracy its name — simply does not belong on the federal bench.

Let’s begin with his role on Jesse Helms’ Senate campaign in 1990.  The Department of Justice alleged that Senator Helms’ campaign sent thousands of postcards to heavily African American precincts falsely telling voters that they were ineligible to vote and threatening prosecution against those who did.  Mr. Farr served as a top lawyer to Senator Helms at the time, and he appears to have misled Congress about his role in this brazen voter suppression scheme. When Senate Judiciary Committee members asked Mr. Farr whether he knew about or had provided any counsel on the decision to send these postcards, Mr. Farr said he hadn’t learned about their existence until after they were mailed out.  But a former DOJ official has stated the Mr. Farr definitely knew about the postcards before they were sent out, and that his responses to Congress were “contrary to the facts.”

Setting aside this outrageous attempt at voter suppression, each Senator in this chamber should care whether a President’s nominee tells them the truth.  If a nominee won’t tell us the truth under oath, they are unfit to take the oath of judicial office.

Mr. Farr’s embrace of voter suppression appears only to have grown after his work on the Helms campaign.  In 2013, he chose to defend North Carolina’s racially restrictive voting law — a law that the Fourth Circuit struck down because it “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision.”  Undeterred, between 2014 and 2017, Mr. Farr again defended the North Carolina legislature in numerous lawsuits alleging that it had racially gerrymandered its State House and Senate map.  In each of these cases, higher courts found North Carolina’s gerrymandering to be unconstitutional.

There is a pattern here.  And it is deeply troubling.  Mr. Farr has dedicated his skills as a lawyer to suppressing the right to vote for minorities.  His refusal to acknowledge — under oath — his involvement in disenfranchisement operations makes him doubly unqualified for the federal bench.  I urge all Senators who care about the right to vote — and who care about the right of this body to hear the whole truth from a President’s nominees — to vote no on Mr. Farr’s nomination.

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