McConnell Is Itching to Give Jesse Helms' Former Lawyer a Lifetime Court Appointment

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday filed cloture on a pair of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, Jonathan Kobes and Thomas Farr. This is not great news.


The pair are up for spots on the U.S. District Court and McConnell’s actions yesterday mean they are now one Senate vote away from lifetime appointments. Kobes isn’t much of a known entity; his nomination is being opposed by liberal and progressive groups in part because of his sheer inexperience. But the years-long opposition that’s been built up against Farr is one rooted in the acknowledgement that Farr has spent a lifetime defending and aiding outright racist campaigns and legislation. He is what you would call a Bad Lawyer.

After the infamous Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court ruling opened the door for state legislatures to more efficiently suppress minority voters, Farr was tapped by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013 to help them draw up their Voter ID law legislation. Te General Assembly was being run by a supermajority of conservative ghouls, so the law was drafted specifically to target out poor and minority citizens, which is did magnificently.

This led to lawsuits from civil rights group, which resulted in Farr serving as the defending lawyer for North Carolina in a case that ended with U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruling the law “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.” (In an attempt to circumvent their failed attempt at voter suppression, the North Carolina GOP put a voter ID amendment on the ballot in the 2018 midterms, and North Carolina voters passed it through, meaning more lawsuits to come.)

Then, there’s the time when Farr was working for the Jesse Helms staff in 1990 and, per Indy Week, reportedly knew in advance of a postcard that the Helms campaign sent to the homes of black North Carolinians which included warnings meant to intimidate black voters. The tactic was later determined by the Justice Department as having violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Helms himself was a lifelong critic of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) In his Senate questioning session in September 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Farr whether he was “consulted in any way” about the postcard; Farr denied any prior knowledge of the intimidation tactic.

This is the fourth time Farr’s been nominated to sit on the bench, with the first coming in 2006 at the behest of President George W. Bush. Thanks to the efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Democratic Party members that sit on the Judiciary Committee, his nomination has been blocked multiple times. This round is the furthest he’s advanced, and McConnell’s call for cloture means the Senate Republican leader finally believes he has the votes to get Farr through.


The specific judgeship that Farr is being tapped to fill—the Eastern District of North Carolina—has been vacant for 13 years. It represents a 44-county area that boasts a population that’s 30 percent African-American, yet the judgeship has never been filled by a black citizen. President Barack Obama nominated two African-American judges to fill the seat, Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, but neither received a vote.

Both May-Parker and Timmons-Goodson had their appointments opposed by Republican Sen. Richard Burr, with Burr going as far as bragging about having a hand in the longest judicial vacancy in American history. In the case of Farr, though, Burr and fellow Republican Sen. Thom Tillis have been all too ready to shout their support. Tillis went as far as to write an op-ed in which he referenced “far-left” opposition five times and doubled down on defending Farr’s character.


So, in reflection: A rejected George W. Bush nominee and former lawyer for Jesse Helms who made his name on defending the most racist clients on offer is now being revived (again) by Donald Trump, and he’s got the support of both GOP senators in his state. And, per McConnell’s decision, it’s looking like he’s going to spend the rest of his days determining the fate of a predominantly black district in the South.