Democrats Only Need 1 More GOP Vote To Sink A Controversial Judicial Nominee

They're eyeing Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to help them tank Thomas Farr's nomination.

WASHINGTON ― Senate Democrats are so close to sinking one of President Donald Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees, Thomas Farr, they can practically taste it.

They only need one more Republican to vote with them against Farr, who has drawn widespread criticism from civil rights groups and has been referred to as the “vote-suppressor-in-chief” for building a legal career out of trying to weaken black voters’ rights. The Senate is voting this week to advance Farr’s nomination, with a final confirmation vote likely either late this week or next week.

The 64-year-old attorney helped write North Carolina’s extreme voter ID law in 2013 that was later struck down by a federal appeals court, which found that it targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” Farr defended racially discriminatory gerrymandering in federal court in 2015 (and lost), and he may have lied to the Senate about his role in disenfranchising black voters in 1990 when he worked for the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).

Farr’s chances of confirmation come down to a handful of GOP senators who have been evasive about how they’ll vote. Republicans hold such a slim majority in the Senate that if just two GOP senators join Democrats in opposing Farr, his nomination would go down. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has already said he will oppose all of Trump’s nominees until he gets a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller. That puts Farr’s current vote count at 50-50, which means Vice President Mike Pence would have to break the tie even if all the other GOP senators vote yes.

Democrats and civil rights groups are holding out hope that Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) will join them in voting no. They have reason to be hopeful: In addition to being the lone African-American senator in his party, Scott holds the rare distinction of being a Republican senator who previously opposed one of Trump’s judicial nominees, circuit court pick Ryan Bounds ― and it was over Bounds’ racist writings in college. Scott’s vote tanked that nominee.

“I can’t imagine that if he opposed the 9th Circuit nominee based on his college writings that he could possibly vote for this nominee, whose entire career is aimed at African-Americans,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who leads the Congressional Black Caucus’ task force on judicial nominations. “So I am very hopeful, even though I have not had any indication from the senator’s office, that he is studying this and will try to make this vote consistent with his prior vote.”

Scott refused to answer any questions about Farr on Tuesday, telling reporters that he is still “doing my homework” on a nominee who has been out there for over a year.

“I have no answers on the Farr nomination whatsoever,” Scott told HuffPost, adding that he doesn’t plan to speak with him again. “I met with him months ago.”

Farr’s opponents are also looking to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to join them. She recently opposed Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and she has occasionally voted with Democrats on issues like health care and abortion.

Asked about Farr on Tuesday, Murkowski told HuffPost that she has made up her mind on how she’ll vote but doesn’t want to share it.

Earlier in the day, a Murkowski aide said the senator “doesn’t plan on blocking” Farr’s nomination. But the aide did not clarify whether that meant Murkowski would be voting to advance Farr’s nomination on the procedural vote but not necessarily voting to confirm him in the end.

During his confirmation hearing in September 2017, Farr faced questions about his work as a lawyer for Helms. Just before Election Day that year, Helms’ campaign targeted black voters with over 100,000 postcards that had incorrect information about voter qualifications. The postcards warned readers that they could face criminal charges for illegally voting, an intimidation tactic. Farr testified that he did not know about the scheme, but a former Justice Department official said Farr attended a meeting about “ballot security” before the postcards were sent out.

“He had absolutely nothing to do with the racist postcard that was sent out,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters on Tuesday. “He, in fact, told me that he was disgusted by it and he clearly played no role in drafting it, approving it or even seeing it.”

Collins said she will vote to confirm Farr because the American Bar Association rated him “well qualified.” She also said, unexpectedly, that her concerns were alleviated in part because Kathryn Ruemmler, a former White House counsel for President Barack Obama, “strongly supports” Farr’s nomination.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the committee was unaware of any letter of support from Ruemmler with regard to Farr’s nomination. Ruemmler declined to comment.

Civil rights groups have been fighting Farr’s nomination for nearly a year. On Tuesday, they organized a last-minute call with reporters to walk through the details of his decades-long career of disenfranchising black voters.

“Farr is the embodiment of Trump’s anti-civil rights agenda,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “He is an egregious extension of the administration’s campaign to build barriers to voting.”

“It is unconscionable that the Senate would even consider someone with Farr’s record,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “In 2018, this should simply be unacceptable.”

This post was updated to reflect that Kathryn Ruemmler declined to comment about her position on Farr’s nomination.

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