The Slatest

GOP Sen. Tim Scott Probably Doomed One of Trump’s Most Controversial Judicial Nominees

Tim Scott in the U.S. Capitol building
Sen. Tim Scott at the U.S. Capitol in February 2017.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the Senate, will not vote to confirm Thomas Farr, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “I could not support Mr. Farr’s nomination,” he told the State, a South Carolina newspaper.

Scott cited work Farr did on behalf of the late Jesse Helms, the notoriously race-baiting North Carolina senator. When the Justice Department investigated Helms’ 1990 campaign for discouraging black voters while running against Charlotte’s black mayor Harvey Gantt, Farr headed the campaign’s legal defense.

Farr’s nomination was in limbo as several Republican senators besides Scott were either on the fence or opposed to him, even as he advanced toward a final vote Wednesday. Farr’s confirmation vote was scheduled for Thursday but was pushed back to next week.

While many of Trump’s judicial nominees have attracted criticism from Senate Democrats and liberal activist groups, the opposition to Farr has been particularly intense. His long history in North Carolina politics included defending in court a voter identification law that a panel of judges said was written “with almost surgical precision” to target black voters. He also defended a congressional map drawn up by a Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature that a federal court later struck down as a partisan gerrymander. The Helms campaign attracted the Justice Department’s interest, according to Politico, when it “sent postcards targeting African-American voters that suggested they were not eligible to vote.”

The DOJ investigated the campaign for having “conducted a postcard mailing campaign designed to intimidate and threaten black voters throughout the state of North Carolina” and filed a complaint in federal court. The campaign eventually settled with a consent decree. Farr, according to the Post, “denied playing any role in drafting the postcards” in 1990.

Scott told the State newspaper that a newly surfaced 1991 DOJ memo describing the Helms campaign’s efforts to discourage black people from voting “shed new light on Mr. Farr’s activities.”

The memo said that Farr had worked on a previous “ballot security” program for Helms in 1984, “including a postcard mailing to voters in predominantly black precincts which was designed to serve as a basis to challenge voters on election day.” But Farr, the DOJ said, “did not play an active role in the 1990 Helms campaign.”

Republicans would have needed all three votes from Scott, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to confirm Farr because Jeff Flake has pledged to vote against all judicial nominees until a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller reches the Senate floor. Despite that ultimatum, Flake told the Post that he was “uncomfortable with” Farr’s nomination: “I wouldn’t support that even without the Mueller issue.”