President Trump nominated attorney Thomas Alvin Farr on July 13, 2017, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. While there are numerous Republican lawyers in North Carolina who undoubtedly are qualified to serve on the district court and could administer justice fairly, this report demonstrates that Farr’s deeply troubling record places him well outside that pool of candidates. Alliance for Justice strongly opposes Farr’s nomination.
Indeed, it would be difficult to identify an attorney in North Carolina whose career is more closely associated with attacks on the rights of vulnerable citizens. For the last three decades, Farr, who represented the campaign of the ultraconservative Senator Jesse Helms at a time when the campaign was accused of taking part in conduct designed to intimidate black voters, has committed himself to two main missions: disenfranchising voters of color and attacking workers’ rights. Farr has been the go-to private attorney for North Carolina Republicans in their efforts to dilute African-American votes and implement laws aimed at making it more difficult for communities of color to vote. Indeed, the courts have rebuked Farr’s most recent voting rights cases. Farr unsuccessfully represented the Republican-led North Carolina Legislature in Cooper v. Harris, 137 S. Ct. 1455 (2017). The Supreme Court concluded that the Legislature had engaged in an unconstitutional racial gerrymander when it redrew two districts after the 2010 census. Farr also failed in his attempt to defend North Carolina’s restrictive voter identification law. See North Carolina v. N.C. State Conf. of the NAACP, 137 S. Ct. 1399 (2017). The Supreme Court denied review of the Fourth Circuit’s decision that Republican legislators had enacted the law with discriminatory intent, “target[ing] African Americans with almost surgical precision.” N.C. State Conf. of the NAACP v. McCrory, 831 F.3d 204, 214 (4th Cir. 2016).
Farr also has championed weakening, or even eliminating, legal protections for employment discrimination. He said it was “better policy for the state” when the North Carolina Legislature eliminated the right of workers to bring any employment discrimination lawsuit in state court, an effort even Republicans in the Legislature realized had gone too far and quickly repealed. When the Legislature allowed a county to enact an anti-discrimination ordinance, Farr fought to have it invalidated.
Farr also has spent years working to undermine the rights of employees claiming unlawful and discriminatory employment practices. Farr defended a company when a supervisor said that “women with children should be at home and not employed in the workplace,” that he would go to an employee’s hotel room to “help [her] pick [her] panties off the floor,” and that female employees were “stupid, retarded, and awful.” Farr defended another company when a woman was denied a position because the job “was too hard and too rough for a woman.” And, he defended Avis when it was sued for denying African Americans the right to rent cars on the same terms as white customers. While he repeatedly defended companies that discriminated against employees, he has rarely represented a victim of discrimination or advocated for strengthening laws that would protect women and people of color.
Farr also has fought vigorously against workers’ efforts to unionize. He was a staff attorney at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which has deep ties to the Koch brothers and was described by The Center for Media and Democracy as “a national leader in the effort to destroy public and private sector unions.” Later, in private practice, he filed an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit challenging California’s State Employer-Employee Relations Act, which provided for collective bargaining for state employees. He did this even though he was a North Carolina resident and was not representing any party to the litigation. He also defended companies trying to deny recognition of unions and committing unfair labor practices.
Notably, the seat to which Farr has been nominated has an unusual history. As of this writing, it represents the longest judicial vacancy in the country. Given Farr’s extensive work to undermine voting rights for African-Americans, it is especially striking that Republicans’ refusal to confirm two Obama judicial nominees, both women of color, has contributed to the extended vacancy. In 2013, President Obama nominated Jennifer May-Parker for the seat. Her nomination was blocked by Senator Richard Burr’s refusal to return his blue slip. President Obama then nominated Patricia Timmons-Goodson in 2016, whom Senator Burr previously had recommended for the seat in 2009. Senator Burr, despite his previous support, refused to return his blue slip on Timmons-Goodson. If either May-Parker or Timmons-Goodson had been confirmed, it would have been the first time an African-American judge sat on the Eastern District in the court’s 143-year history. Farr is white.
In addition, this is not the first time Farr has been nominated to fill this vacancy. President George W. Bush first nominated Farr in 2006 and nominated him again in 2007. Each time, Farr’s nomination failed to advance out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Because Farr has built his career on disenfranchising voters of color and stripping workers’ protections, which raises serious questions whether he will be fair and unbiased as a judge, Alliance for Justice strongly opposes his nomination to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. President Trump nominated attorney Thomas Alvin Farr on July 13, 2017, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.