WASHINGTON — A Senate panel on Thursday narrowly backed the nomination of a North Carolina attorney to fill the nation's longest judicial vacancy over the objections of Democrats, black lawmakers and some civil rights groups.
The Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 to recommend the nomination of Thomas Farr to the full Senate. If confirmed, he'll serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, a post vacant for nearly 12 years.
Farr was hired by North Carolina GOP leaders to defend congressional and legislative boundaries approved in 2011 that helped expand Republican majorities. The labor and constitutional law attorney also helped defend a wide-ranging, 2013 voting law in the state that required photo identification to vote, reduced the number of early voting days and made new voter registration more difficult.
North Carolina Republicans said that requiring voter ID would increase the integrity of elections. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state provided no evidence of the kind of in-person voter fraud the ID mandate would address. The Richmond, Virginia-based court said the law was enacted with intentional bias against black voters.
The Congressional Black Caucus said, "We cannot state forcefully enough our opposition to the nomination of Thomas Farr."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel's top Democrat, said Farr has a long record of defending discriminatory voting laws.
Farr also was nominated for the position by President George W. Bush, but he did not get a committee vote before Bush left office.
President Barack Obama nominated two black female attorneys to fill the vacancy, but neither received a hearing or a vote, and they were opposed by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. They would have been the first African-Americans to serve in the 143-year history of the judicial district.
"The nomination of Thomas Farr to this judgeship adds insult to injury," said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina told the committee that Farr had letters of recommendation from across the political spectrum and a "well-qualified rating" from the American Bar Association.
"It's unfortunate that, when we get to this committee, some of the discourse that would tear down the stellar reputation of Tom Farr," Tillis said.