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One of Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees gets sent back to the start line

Thomas Farr denies that he misled the Senate Judiciary Committee about his involvement in a voter intimidation scheme.

gavel Joe Raedle/Getty Images

One of President Donald Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees will have to start the nomination process all over again next year.

Politico reported Friday that some 100 presidential nominees have been declined by the Senate and sent back to the White House. That includes Thomas Farr, a North Carolina attorney who has defended the state from allegations of suppressing the black vote. If the president hopes to continue with these nominations, the administration will have to renominate these figures next year.

Farr was nominated in July to the Eastern District of North Carolina’s federal court, a district that includes a portion of the Southern “Black Belt” (roughly 27 percent of the region’s residents are black). In October, Farr cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and was expected to go before the Senate for a final vote in the near future.

But the Senate, possibly due to a push from Democrats, has blocked several of Trump’s nominees from advancing to a full vote before the new year. That means the nomination process (with committee hearings and all) will have to start anew for this group, and Farr will have to face new questions about his past that have come up in the intervening months.

Farr’s past may come back to haunt him

Many of Trump’s judicial nominees have proven controversial, but Farr’s nomination has stood out for his defense of a number of North Carolina’s most controversial voting-related measures, including its gerrymandered district maps that were partially struck down for packing minority voters into a small number of districts.

Farr is perhaps better known for providing the legal defense of North Carolina’s voter ID law, which was blocked by the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in 2016. In its ruling, the court noted that the law targeted North Carolina’s African Americans “with almost surgical precision,” adding that it might have been “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”

Farr’s nomination, introduced by a president who alleges that voter fraud cost him the popular vote, and coming a few years after the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, angered civil rights groups.

The North Carolina NAACP argued that Farr “has been the lead attorney in attacking every modern effort in North Carolina to empower the state’s African-American voters; and in most of case, he has been a public architect of the regressive and discriminatory backlash.” In a letter to members of the Senate, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and a former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, argued that “Mr. Farr’s nomination appears to be part of an overall campaign by the Trump administration to suppress voting rights in America.”

Farr has also been criticized for his involvement with the 1990 reelection campaign of then-Sen. Jesse Helms, long recognized as an ardent segregationist. As Mother Jones’s Ari Berman noted prior to Farr’s confirmation vote in the Senate:

Farr served as Helms’ campaign lawyer during his Senate runs in 1984 and 1990, two of the most notoriously racist campaigns in modern American history. In 1990, when Helms faced off against former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, the city’s first black mayor, the North Carolina Republican Party sent 125,000 postcards to predominantly African American households falsely telling them it was a crime to vote if they’d moved within 30 days of the election, with a punishment of “up to five years in jail.”

When asked about his connections to the postcards during his October confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Farr denied having any involvement, saying that he was only made aware of the issue when the Department of Justice sued the Helms campaign over the scheme. (The suit was later settled by a consent decree between the parties.)

But in an account published in IndyWeek in November, a former Justice Department investigator argued that Farr had participated in a “ballot security” meeting prior to the 1990 election, and was aware of the postcard campaign.

The revelation led Farr’s critics to renew their demands that his nomination be withdrawn or that at the very least he be required to return to the Senate committee to confront a new round of questioning about his exact involvement in the 1990 postcard scheme. Farr will likely have to answer these questions if he restarts the nomination process next year.

While Trump has had the most success of any first-year president in getting judicial nominees confirmed, the administration has also faced accusations of rushing unqualified nominees through the process.

In a 10-day period this month, three nominees withdrew their names from consideration after their qualifications for the positions were questioned, including one who withdrew after being unable to answer basic legal questions.