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Republican Sen. Tim Scott sinks Trump judicial nominee tied to voter suppression efforts

Democrats had slammed Thomas Farr for systematically stripping African Americans of their voting rights.

Tim Scott
Sen. Tim Scott in February 2017.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is officially opposing Trump judicial nominee Thomas Farr, a controversial pick who Democrats argue has systematically stripped African Americans of their voting rights — meaning his nomination will likely fail.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has said he’ll be blocking all Trump judicial nominees until a bill protecting special counsel Robert Mueller gets a floor vote. Scott’s vote was crucial for Republicans to hit the 50-vote threshold they needed to confirm Farr to a North Carolina district court seat.

Farr is the second judicial nominee that Scott, the lone black Republican in the Senate, has opposed, making it impossible for the two to get confirmed. In both cases, the nominees were involved in controversies over race in the past: Scott previously said he’d vote against Ninth Circuit nominee Ryan Bounds, over his past racist writings.

Scott said that his stance against Farr was driven, in part, by a Justice Department memo that broke down the agency’s complaint against the 1990 campaign of former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms.

The Helms campaign had sent more than 120,000 postcards targeted at mostly African-American voters aiming at intimidating and preventing them from going to the polls. Farr had served as legal counsel for the Helms campaign at the time, though he has denied any involvement in the mailing.

“I am ready and willing to support strong candidates for our judicial vacancies that do not have lingering concerns about issues that could affect their decision-making process as a federal judge,” Scott said in a statement on the nomination. “This week, a Department of Justice memo written under President George H.W. Bush was released that shed new light on Mr. Farr’s activities. This, in turn, created more concerns. Weighing these important factors, this afternoon I concluded that I could not support Mr. Farr’s nomination.”

The failure of Farr’s nomination is a major victory for Democrats, who have sought to build a case against him all week.

Who is Thomas Farr?

Trump’s judicial nominees have been younger, whiter, and more likely to be male, on average, than those offered up by President Barack Obama, according to a Washington Post analysis. They also have the potential to dramatically reshape public policy on issues as varied as voting rights and environmental protections.

While Democrats have broadly bristled at a number of these nominees for their conservative leanings, Farr is among a smaller subset that they’ve specifically called out for positions they say are discriminatory and explicitly targeted at disenfranchising African Americans.

Democrats emphasized Tuesday that they would be open to supporting another nominee in lieu of Farr. The NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) object to Farr over, among other things, his 2016 defense of a North Carolina voter ID law that the Fourth Circuit Court concluded “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Farr also helped North Carolina Republicans make the case for partisan gerrymandered congressional districts, and the Supreme Court has since ruled some of these maps unconstitutional. And he backed the state when it argued that workers shouldn’t be able to bring employment discrimination claims based on race or sex.

“It is no exaggeration to say that had the White House deliberately sought to identify an attorney in North Carolina with a more hostile record on African-American voting rights and workers’ rights than Thomas Farr, it could hardly have done so,” the CBC wrote in a letter to Senate Judiciary leaders last month.

“Why this person? Why in a state in the Eastern District that is diverse, in a state that has a sad history, like so many of our states, with a history of voter suppression?” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked during a press briefing on Tuesday. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also argued that a Farr confirmation would upset the judicial check on state legislatures, which are often sued if they try to implement discriminatory voting rights practices. Harris noted that Farr could very well oversee an upcoming court case in his district on this exact topic.

On top of his own negative track record on race, Farr has been nominated for a judicial seat that has a long and tenuous history. The seat has been empty for roughly 12 years, and Democrats say it’s due to Republican efforts to block two African-American women whom President Barack Obama had nominated to fill it.

Given Scott’s decision, it looks like their efforts to highlight Farr’s shortcomings might just have worked.

Read the DOJ memo, obtained by the Washington Post, below: