Four of President Trump’s nominees for the federal bench moved a step closer to being confirmed on Thursday, but one judicial pick in particular faced protests from the Congressional Black Caucus and several progressive groups who say he has worked to defend discriminatory laws.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted down party lines 11-9, to clear North Carolina attorney Thomas Farr for a confirmation vote with the full Senate. Once confirmed, Mr. Farr will be a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
But before the committee’s vote Thursday, its top ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, voiced opposition to the president’s nominee, citing the Congressional Black Caucus’ letter to the committee alleging Mr. Farr has worked for decades to disenfranchise black voters.
“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 Congressional Black Caucus’ letter read.
It said Mr. Farr defended Jesse Helms’ campaign in 1992 when the Justice Department filed a complaint against its efforts to intimidate black voters and that he also defended North Carolina’s voter photo ID law, which was struck down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for discriminatory intent.
Several progressive groups including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and People For the American Way have been urging senators to oppose Mr. Farr’s confirmation for weeks.
The progressive Alliance for Justice also opposed Mr. Farr, and praised Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee for voting against Mr. Trump’s judicial pick Thursday.
“We applaud Democrats who took a stand today against this nominee, and we wonder when, if ever, Republicans will say ‘enough’ when faced with a judicial nominee who is blatantly hostile to the rights of fellow Americans,” said Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice.
But Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican, defended Mr. Farr’s reputation during the committee’s meeting, saying he is a fair and reasonable judicial candidate.
“He received ‘well qualified’ rating from the ABA on two different occasions, which many members on this committee consider to be the gold standard,” said Mr. Tillis, referencing the American Bar Association’s judicial score it gives to federal court nominees.
Ms. Feinstein also took issue with the seat for which Mr. Farr was nominated having been vacant since 2005. Mr. Farr had been nominated to the seat once before in 2006, but never moved out of committee.
President Obama nominated two women of color to the seat during his administration, but because Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, didn’t return his blue slip for either of Mr. Obama’s nominees, they did not proceed out of committee either.
If one of the two women Mr. Obama nominated had been confirmed, it would have been the first time a black judge sat on the Eastern District of North Carolina’s bench in the court’s 143-year history, the Congressional Black Caucus said in its letter.
Under a Senate tradition, unless both home-state senators return their blue slips signaling acquiescence, the Senate Judiciary Committee usually won’t proceed with a nomination.
“I mention this because it is important to be honest about how my colleagues regularly used blue slips during the last administration. This is the prerogative of home state senators. Democrat senators should not be treated worse than Republican senators were,” Ms. Feinstein said.
Her comments come after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, recently suggested blue slips should only be a signal as to how a senator would vote on a nominee.
Mr. Trump currently has 51 judicial nominees pending confirmation by the Senate.
The committee also cleared three other district court nominees on Wednesday: Annemarie Axon for the Northern District of Alabama,
Michael Brown for the Northern District of Georgia. and William Ray II for the Northern District of Georgia.