November 27, 2018

Warren Delivers Floor Speech Opposing Thomas Farr's Nomination to Federal District Court

"His nomination will only deepen a plague of voter suppression aimed at stripping Americans - particularly people of color and marginalized groups - of their lawful right to vote."

Video (YouTube)


Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor opposing the nomination of Thomas Farr for the Eastern District Court of North Carolina.  In her remarks, Senator Warren highlighted Mr. Farr's troubling record of defending efforts to suppress the vote in North Carolina, and urged her colleagues to reject his confirmation.

 The full text of her remarks is available below.

 Remarks by Senator Elizabeth Warren

**As Prepared for Delivery**
November 27, 2018

 For decades, powerful interests have been working to take over our courts and tilt the scales of justice in favor of billionaires and giant corporations.

 President Trump has been all in, nominating extreme and partisan judges to the federal judiciary at lightning speed. Trump's judges can easily fill a who's who of radical, right-wing, pro-corporate lawyers, but today I want to focus on the nomination of one of the worst of the worst: Thomas Farr, Trump's nominee to serve on the federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

 Thomas Farr has made his name as the go-to lawyer for powerful interests. When rental car company Avis and its franchisee were sued for discriminating against African-American customers, Farr defended the franchisee. When Pfizer was sued for sex discrimination and creating a hostile work environment, Farr was there once again, representing the company.

But today, just a few weeks after millions of Americans went to the polls to exercise the basic right at the core of our democracy, I want to focus on one of the most pressing reasons that my colleagues should vote against Farr's nomination. His nomination will only deepen a plague of voter suppression aimed at stripping Americans - particularly people of color and marginalized groups - of their lawful right to vote.

 Voter suppression is front and center on Farr's resume - including his work for Jesse Helms, the former U.S. Senator and shameless bigot. Farr worked as Senator Helms' campaign lawyer while Helms led some of the most blatantly racist political campaigns in modern history. For example, to decrease black turnout, Helms' senate campaign mailed postcards to 125,000 voters in predominantly black precincts falsely claiming that they could be found ineligible to vote based on specific criteria involving their location and length of residence, and warning that they could face criminal penalties if they voted.

 But that's just the beginning. In recent years, Farr represented the North Carolina legislature in a case challenging a discriminatory voting bill that, according to one federal appeals court, targeted African Americans with "almost surgical precision." The legislature conducted research into voting practices that helped increase turnout among African-Americans voters, and then wrote a bill that essentially eliminated each of those practices. And Farr was there to defend the legislature when faith groups, civil rights groups, and the Obama Administration's Justice Department challenged the discriminatory law. The law was ultimately found unconstitutional by the federal appeals court and was not reinstated by the Supreme Court.

Later, when North Carolina redrew its district lines in a way that discriminated against African Americans, Farr was there yet again to defend the legislature.

Thomas Farr's nomination is particularly troubling given the blizzard of efforts in recent years aimed at stopping Americans from casting their votes. State after state has passed restrictive voter ID laws, purged voting rolls, limited opportunities to register, and erected other barriers to the democratic process. We saw voter suppression rear its head during this year's midterm elections, perhaps most vividly in the state of Georgia. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams ran a grassroots campaign that sought to uplift Georgians from all backgrounds and led to record turnout among African Americans, LGBTQ individuals and young people. But her opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, not only refused to recuse himself from overseeing the same election that he happened to be running in, he openly used the power of his office to suppress voters - especially in communities of color. 

In North Dakota, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a voter ID law that required prospective voters to present an ID with an address-but not just any ID with an address-one that contained a residential street address. This law disproportionately disadvantaged voters in Native American communities, which sometimes use PO Box addresses or other kinds of residential addresses, rather than residential street addresses.

What we saw in Georgia and North Dakota was egregious, but it is by no means new. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, since 2010, 24 states, most of which are under Republican control, have implemented measures that make it harder for Americans to vote.

The Republican Party and President Trump are leading this effort, with a bullseye on Americans who may not be inclined to vote for them. After the 2016 election, Trump falsely claimed that millions of people voted illegally, and months after taking office, established a sham voter fraud commission. Trump's Justice Department has been in lock-step, reversing its position in a case challenging Texas' discriminatory voter ID law, requesting that states turn over voter roll information in an apparent move to purge voter rolls, and filing a brief in an Ohio case arguing that it should be easier for states to purge voters from voter rolls.

Republicans know that every time they try to lock voters out of the democratic process, they will be challenged in the courts. But they have a plan for that. They have been working at breakneck speed to stack federal courts with a cadre of conservative federal judges whose records show they have no intention of protecting our democracy.

Why? Because the fight for our democracy is a fight over who government works for - the rich and the powerful, or all of us. And putting Thomas Farr on the bench is a way for politicians to wall off access to the democratic process so they can keep on working for billionaires and giant corporations.

The Eastern District of North Carolina - the district in which Farr has been nominated to serve - is 27% African American. Yet the court has not had an African-American judge. Not one. Ever. President Obama attempted to change that by nominating two impressive African-American women to serve as judges in that district - individuals dedicated to ensuring every American has an equal shake in our democracy. But Republican Senators refused to allow their nominations to move forward. Now, Republicans want to hand that seat to a man who has made it his job to make it harder for North Carolinians to exercise the right to vote.

The literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses of the Jim Crow era may be relics of a bygone era, but today, Americans - and particularly Americans of color - face new, steep barriers to the ballot box. Farr has made it his job to ensure that those barriers remain in place.

If we truly believe that our courts should defend equal justice under law, every member of this chamber must vote no on Thomas Farr.