RALEIGH — Veteran Raleigh attorney Thomas Farr must wait until 2018 to see if he remains a candidate for the U.S. District Court opening he was chosen to fill in July.
The Senate has not voted on Farr’s confirmation, and Democrats have refused to give the routine unanimous consent needed to keep his nomination open into the new year. Trump would have to nominate Farr again, and the process would begin anew. The News & Observer noted the seat in the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant for 11 years.
If Trump does renominate Farr, his backers say the delays will continue. They say opposition to Farr, who was given a “well-qualified” rating by the American Bar Association, is partisan — and the touchstone is a series of unsupported, false allegations of racial bias against the attorney, who worked for former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican, and represented the GOP-led General Assembly in the early phases of the current legal fight over redistricting.
Farr specifically denies any involvement in a 1990 campaign mailing Democrats have highlighted. His supporters say the charges are simply another partisan attempt to discredit Farr by making spurious assertions against him. Liberals allege Farr is, in the words of the N.C. NAACP, “an advocate for segregationist causes.”
Many of the incendiary allegations came from Gerald Hebert, a former Department of Justice official, and senior director of voting rights and redistricting at the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center.
Hebert says Farr — part of Helms’ 1984 and 1990 campaign teams — had a role in a postcard mailing which targeted 100,000 voters in predominantly black neighborhoods. Hebert contends the late-October 1990 mailing was designed to intimidate blacks by suggesting they were ineligible to vote, and could face criminal prosecution if they did.
The U.S. Justice Department sued the Helms campaign committee for violating federal civil-rights laws and the committee entered a consent decree with the government.
Hebert declined a request for an interview. “Gerry has said all he wants to say on the topic for now,” Corey Goldstone at the Campaign Legal Center told Carolina Journal by email.
Farr strongly denied Hebert’s accusations.
“I played no role whatsoever in drafting the card, providing counsel on the card, deciding to mail the card, or identifying those who would receive the card,” Farr said in a written response to a query letter from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, a potential 2020 presidential candidate.
“That mailing was the subject of an extensive investigation by the Justice Department. Because I was not involved, I was not named as a defendant in the civil action filed by the Justice Department,” Farr wrote in the response. “In fact, I did not know about the mailing of the card, its contents, or its recipients until after it had been mailed.”
Carter Wrenn, who was Helms’ campaign manager, not only corroborated Farr’s denial in an interview with CJ, and in a letter he sent to North Carolina’s junior Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, but also accepted blame for the postcard.
“I think there’s a lot of politics in all of these racial charges that are being thrown around,” Wrenn said, characterizing Hebert’s accusations as “fiction.”
Farr was in a meeting in October 1990 at which poll watchers, campaign mailings, “and a bunch of different things” including ballot security programs were discussed, Wrenn said.
“They didn’t have a postcard in front of them at that meeting. They didn’t approve a copy of it or anything like that. They just talked about what can we do on a ballot security program,” Wrenn said. “The card mailing eventually made it to my desk, and instead of reading it, and vetting it I just said go ahead and send it.”
“The actual postcard itself was just a blunder, and Farr didn’t have anything to do with the blunder,” Wrenn said.
That echoes Wrenn’s account in his letter to Tillis.
“The actual postcard that was mailed could not have been discussed [at the October meeting] because it did not exist at the time of the meetings described by Mr. Herbert [sic],” Wrenn wrote. He said he never talked to Farr about the card that was mailed or who it was mailed to until the Justice Department investigated possible voting rights violations after the election.
In his response to Booker, Farr affirmed he didn’t know about the mailing until it went out.
“When I first saw the language on the card after it had been mailed and was advised as to whom it had been mailed, I was appalled,” Farr wrote. “I immediately recommended that the Helms Committee cancel their 1990 ballot security program which they did. I then spent the next several months working with the Justice Department to resolve the matter with a consent decree.” The Helms Committee never admitted to any wrongdoing.
J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, and a former Justice Department election lawyer, agrees with Wrenn that the political motivation rests with Hebert, who is involved in redistricting litigation and has faced off with Farr in court.
“[Hebert] doesn’t want people on the federal bench who disagree with his tactics. He wants only judges who agree with his ends-justify-the-means approach to racial issues,” Adams told CJ. “Farr doesn’t play that game.”
In a column he wrote for the conservative news and commentary website PJ Media, Adams said Hebert “has a history of fabricating details.” Adams’ book Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department, outlined similar charges against Hebert. According to the book:
• Hebert had to recant race-based accusations against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his nomination proceedings for a federal judgeship in 1986. He and another Justice Department attorney accused Sessions of acting as Alabama attorney general to block a voting rights case. Sessions was not the state’s attorney general at the time.
• Hebert also pushed a losing case against county commissioners in Alabama that drew a stinging judicial rebuke in 1997, and $86,626 in compensation to the wrongly accused defendants.
In the Alabama case of U.S. v. Jones, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a redistricting case handled by Hebert, then a Justice Department attorney, erred in assigning racially discriminatory motives to Dallas County commissioners and other public officials.
“This is a very troubling case,” the decision stated, noting that mapping mistakes had been used by election officials for many years. “A properly conducted investigation would have quickly revealed that there was no basis for the claim that the Defendants were guilty of purposeful discrimination against black voters. Furthermore, the record shows that the 1992 voter registration list was prepared by the Board of Registrars which had two black members and one white member.”
The court rebuked the DOJ for the “carelessly instigated” case, and “unconscionable” lack of proper investigation.
“Unfortunately, we cannot restore the reputation of the persons wrongfully branded by the United States as public officials who deliberately deprived their fellow citizens of their voting rights,” the opinion stated. “We also lack the power to remedy the damage done to race relations in Dallas County by the unfounded accusations of purposeful discrimination made by the United States.”
Even though the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Farr’s nomination by an 11-9 party-line vote, Booker and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, have pressed Farr especially hard, as left-leaning organizations called on Trump to withdraw Farr’s selection.
“Left-wing groups are using a baseless claim posted on a left-wing blog that came from a left-wing political advocate who has a long history of making misleading and unprovable claims to try to sink the chances of Republican nominees,” said Daniel Keylin, a spokesman for Tillis. Keylin was referring to several stories in the alternative Triangle publication Indy Week, and Hebert’s statements.
“The bottom line is that North Carolina legal professionals from across the political spectrum agree that Tom Farr is a man of great character and professionalism,” Keylin said.
“The attempt by the far left to smear his well-earned reputation through innuendo without a shred of actual evidence is shameful, and it’s disappointing that some of Senator Tillis’ Democratic colleagues are jumping on the bandwagon to pander to their base and advance their own political ambitions,” Keylin said.
Tillis and Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior GOP senator, have supported Farr.
“He received ‘well qualified’ rating from the [American Bar Association] on two different occasions, which many members on this committee consider to be the gold standard,” Tillis said during the confirmation hearing.
Burr introduced Farr at the hearing, saying “his wealth of experience will serve North Carolina well.”