Tim Scott Dooms Farr Nomination by Vowing to Cast 51st 'No' Vote

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) speaks to reporters as he arrives at the Capitol for policy luncheons Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) came down against the confirmation of a judicial nominee Democrats had targeted for defeat, becoming the 51st senator committed to voting against Thomas Farr.

Farr, a lawyer who has represented Republicans on redistricting and voter ID cases, was nominated to the court in July 2017. He helped craft North Carolina’s 2013 voter ID law struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals; the ruling said it targeted African-American voters with “almost surgical precision.”

“The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary — a body that’s frequently been held up by my Democratic colleagues as the ‘gold standard’ — has awarded Mr. Farr its highest possible rating: unanimously well qualified,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday, urging colleagues to advance the nomination. “My friend, Senator Burr, has testified that his fellow North Carolinian has, quote, ‘the requisite expertise, character, and judgment required for the federal bench,’ and that ‘he will serve in this role honorably.’”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) had vowed earlier in the day to vote against President Trump’s pick for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Flake has vowed to not support any judicial nominees until a vote is allowed on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.

On Wednesday, Farr squeaked by on a 51-50 cloture vote, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie as the 51st vote. Scott voted in favor of Farr then, but said at the time that his final vote was still up in the air.

Scott said he needed time to review and speak to the author of a 1991 Justice Department memo obtained by the Washington Post discussing voter intimidation claims against the Jesse Helms campaign, which Farr worked for in 1984 and represented as a lawyer in 1990. The DOJ case centered on postcards sent to heavily African-American districts warning recipients of the penalties for voter fraud; Farr said he was not aware of the postcards until the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division contacted the campaign. The DOJ lawsuit was settled with a consent decree.

“Confirming judicial nominees is one of the most important responsibilities of a United States senator. I take my role in that process very seriously, as we want to ensure the judicial branch remains honest, fair, and impartial. 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, and I am proud that Senate Republicans have confirmed judges at an historical rate over the past two years,” Scott said in a statement this evening.

“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,” Scott added. “This, in turn, created more concerns. Weighing these important factors, this afternoon I concluded that I could not support Mr. Farr’s nomination.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared that Scott “has done a courageous thing, and he’s done the right thing.”

“Thomas Farr has been involved in the sordid practice of voter suppression for decades and never should have been nominated, let alone confirmed to the bench,” he said. “Thankfully, he won’t be.”

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) also indicated that they were undecided about Farr. It was unclear whether the White House would pull the nomination.