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Progressives rally forces against Farr judicial nomination

By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Contributor / November 30, 2018

Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, N.C. NAACP
president, with Hillary O. Shelton, director of
the NAACP Washington Bureau.

With strong signals that the Republican-led U.S. Senate may very well vote to confirm President Trump’s re-nomination of Raleigh attorney Thomas Farr, 64, to the federal bench this week, everyone from progressive activists like the N.C. NAACP, to the Congressional Black Caucus, to North Carolina’s Democratic Congressional Delegation, has mobilized to stop the vote.

Two busloads of N.C. NAACP activists from across North Carolina, led by state conference president Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, traveled to Washington, D.C. Wednesday to lobby senators on Capital Hill to either vote against Farr’s controversial judicial nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, or let the nomination die with this outgoing Congress.

Farr was already approved ten months ago by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but concerned about the midterm elections, Trump pulled the nomination temporarily. Now that the elections are over, observers expect Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) to try to get as many of Trump’s judicial nominees confirmed as possible, with Farr heading the list.

What makes Farr’s nomination to the lifetime post so controversial is his documented history as an election campaign attorney for the late conservative U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) during the 1990’s. Farr is alleged to have helped engineer a Republican so-called “ballot security” program in 1990 that attempted to suppress the Black vote statewide when Helms was first challenged by Black candidate, former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt.

In addition, all three of North Carolina’s Democratic congresspeople – Alma Adams (13th), David Price (4th) and G.K. Butterfield (1st) – wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) Monday asking him to “cancel all votes” on the Farr nomination and “allow his nomination to expire in the 115th Congress…” because of troubling questions about Farr’s alleged racial past.

“Mr. Farr’s hostility to African American political participation does not end with his time with Senator Helms,” the letter to McConnell stated. “Mr. Farr was also responsible for advising the North Carolina General Assembly while it drew federal congressional districts that packed African American voters into Districts 1 and 12, a move the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed was unconstitutional. Additionally, in 2013, Mr. Farr defended North Carolina’s discriminatory voter ID law, which targeted African American voters “with almost surgical precision,” according to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

The Eastern District of North Carolina is comprised of 44 out of the state’s 100 counties, and has had the nation’s longest judicial vacancy. But even though the district also has a Black population of more than 25 percent, it has never had a Black judge. In fact, Pres. Obama nominated two Black female candidates for the post before he left office, but North Carolina’s Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr ‘blue slipped’ or blocked the nominations from getting Senate consideration.

Both Burr and Thom Tillis, North Carolina’s junior Republican senator, not only back Farr enthusiastically, but defend him vigorously, saying that the “left’s attacks” on Farr are “unwarranted.”

Allowing Farr to become a federal judge, not only because of his history with Helms, but his later efforts on behalf of the N.C. Republican Party to establish voter ID and racial gerrymandering, would be unthinkable, says Dr. Spearman.

“Tom Farr in the Eastern District with the legal authority to decide the fate of African Americans — hear me somebody — is tantamount to Adolf Hitler wreaking havoc among our Jewish sisters and brothers, and Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, breathing out cruelty to Christians,” Spearman told reporters last March after going to Washington to protest after Pres. Trump first nominated Farr.

When he went to D.C. earlier this year, Spearman was hopeful that Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Tim Scott of South Carolina, might buck their party, and join the 49 Senate Democrats in voting against Farr’s nomination.

On Tuesday, a number of national civil rights leaders, including former North Carolina NAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, joined the Congressional Black Caucus and the North Carolina Democratic Congressional Delegation in calling for the U.S. Senate not to confirm Thomas Farr.


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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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