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Booker Remarks on the Nomination of Thomas Farr to be US District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina

January 18, 2018
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Washington, DC U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) delivered remarks on the nomination of Thomas Farr to be US District Court Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina at a Judiciary Committee hearing today.  

Booker also spoke on the nominations of Jeffrey Clark, who has been nominated to serve as Associate Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, and Eric Dreiband, who was nominated to serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

Booker has expressed concerns about Farr’s nomination to the federal judiciary.  In December 2017, Booker sent letters to both Farr and Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeking an explanation for apparent discrepancies between Farr’s written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee and his apparent awareness of a major voter suppression effort during then-Senator Jesse Helms’ re-election campaign in 1990 that was the subject of a Department of Justice investigation and complaint.

Below are Booker’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

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Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein,

I am honored to be able to sit among my Democratic and Republican colleagues on this committee as we consider nominees for vital judicial and agency vacancies, who if confirmed will have the opportunity to impact and influence the lives of millions of Americans, in many instances for generations to come.

And that is precisely why we take this process so seriously, and why each of these nominees and their records deserve our close and critical attention.

Having evaluated all of the nominees before this committee today I am proud to say that there are candidates who I look forward to supporting.

But there are also serious questions about the qualifications of several nominees, and their commitment to upholding equal justice under the law.

I would like to begin by discussing perhaps the most objectionable judicial nominee we have seen in this past year.

Several of my colleagues here raised questions about the nominee for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Thomas Farr, when he appeared before the Committee last year, and I’ve provided several questions to Mr. Farr in writing to which he has responded.

The reason he has faced so many questions, and the reason several of my honored and esteemed colleagues from the CBC are here today, is that he has spent much of his legal career actively undermining civil rights protections and the voting rights of Americans of color.

There are those who will try to muddy the facts, so let me state the facts plainly.

Time and again, Mr. Farr has in his legal career worked to weaken civil rights protections for workers and every day Americans on behalf of corporate interests.

The cases Mr. Farr has chosen to take on over his decades-long career reflect methodical, repeated efforts to weaken critical civil rights protections, erode anti-discrimination protections, suppress the vote in communities of color, and attack workers’ rights to organize.

In a report on Mr. Farr’s nomination, the Alliance For Justice wrote, and I quote, that “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.”

In fact, he has gone out of his way to advance this agenda. In one instance, as a private attorney in North Carolina, he filed an amicus brief in a suit that challenged a California labor law that established the right of state employees to organize.

Mr. Farr also represented the state of North Carolina in federal appeals court, and lost one of his biggest cases defending the state’s notorious and discriminatory Voter ID law—because the court found that it was targeting Blacks, and I quote, “with almost surgical precision.”

Now, I bring up Mr. Farr’s record before this committee today not under the illusion that lawyers should be responsible for their clients’ actions, but because Mr. Farr is responsible for having painstakingly, throughout his career, gone out of his way to create a pattern of taking on cases that seek to weaken critical civil rights protections.

We know for example, that two of our founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton represented British loyalists after the war, and John Adams represented British soldiers who fired on Americans in the Boston Massacre— but our founding fathers did not choose time and time again to take on these kinds of cases, that is not how they defined their careers.

Mr. Farr on the other hand has made a career of taking on again and again, taking on very specific kinds of cases, cases that would weaken civil rights protections.

It was also during Mr. Farr’s time in private practice that he served as legal counsel to the re-election campaign of then Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.

It was while Mr. Farr served as campaign counsel that the Helms campaign notoriously sent over 120,000 postcards to Black North Carolina voters suggesting that they were not only ineligible to vote, but threatened criminal prosecution if they did.

This was not just a discriminatory, anti-democratic plan to suppress Black votes, it was also unlawful. In fact, the act was so grievous that the US Department of Justice under the George H.W. Bush Administration ultimately filed a complaint in federal court against the Helms for Senate campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party.  

Now, Mr. Farr has denied involvement in this scheme, but discrepancies between his testimony to the Judiciary Committee and the historical record raise serious questions that remain unanswered and offer contradictions that cast serious doubt on his account.

For instance, Ranking Member Feinstein asked in a question for the record, that read, and I quote:

“Did you have any role in drafting or sending of the postcards? Did you participate in any meetings in which the postcards were discussed before they were sent? If so please explain your role in such meetings.”

Mr. Farr simply replied “no” to this question.

However, press reports and the account of Gerald Hebert, a former Department of Justice attorney, tell a different story.

A report from November of 2017 from a North Carolina publication read, and I quote:

“[A] former Department of Justice prosecutor repeated to the INDY this week what he told this reporter in 2009—that Farr knew about the postcards well in advance of the mailing, which implies that he misled the Senate committee about his involvement.”

In fact, that same reporter wrote an article in 2009 which stated that, and I quote:

“Farr said on Monday that he had limited contact with campaign officials before the 1990 mailing and advised them not to send the postcards.”

It does not make sense that Mr. Farr now claims he did not know about the postcards prior to their mailing when he stated in 2009 that he advised the campaign not to send them.

Based on this, I sent a letter to Mr. Farr to clarify why he responded “no” to Ranking Member Feinstein’s question regarding whether he participated in any meetings in which the postcards were discussed before they were sent.

Mr. Farr’s response raised even more contradictions.

In response to one question I posed on this serious discrepancy he stated, and I quote:

““[S]everal weeks before the election, I participated in a short meeting with persons who wanted to be hired to do a ballot security program for the Helms Committee in 1990.”

This contradicts his response to Ranking Member Feinstein’s question. The postcards were part of the ballot security program.

Mr. Farr’s hearing before this committee occurred before Senator Harris and I joined, and we have not had any opportunity to ask Mr. Farr in person many of the troubling questions that remain. That is why, Mr. Chairman, Senator Harris and I had respectfully requested this committee hold another hearing on the nomination of the Thomas Farr to Eastern District of North Carolina and our request stands today.

It is clear to me that Mr. Farr’s involvement in the Helms Campaign, the extent of which deserves further scrutiny, is just one part of his long career, much of which was spent undermining civil rights, voting rights, and workers’ rights.

The Eastern District of North Carolina is where close to half of the entire Black population of North Carolina resides—some of whom perhaps, over 30 years ago, received a note in the mail from Mr. Farr’s boss that used Jim Crow era scare tactics to suppress black votes.

In fact, some of the very citizens who were intimidated through the voter suppression tactics of the Helms campaign and presumably abetted by Mr. Farr in 1990 could very well be the same ones appearing before him in court if he were to be confirmed—Would his court be an “impartial forum for the just resolution of disputes”, which is the defined mission of the Eastern District Court of North Carolina?

Since this nomination, even before I joined this committee, my office alone has heard from civic activists, clergy, community leaders and advocates pleading with us to prevent this nominee from being confirmed.

I actually have family that resides there in North Carolina, my father was born and raised in the state, I know personally the feelings of concern and impending grief this nomination is causing.

Mr. Farr’s career and the choices he has made, again and again, to work to suppress civil rights, workers’ rights, voting rights—not his specific clients or associations—make him unqualified to sustain equal justice under the law, unqualified to provide an impartial forum for just resolution, and unqualified to uphold the integrity that our judicial system demands.

Given the facts that we now know and the questions that still remain, I would respectfully request again that this committee hold another hearing on the nomination of the Thomas Farr to Eastern District of North Carolina.

I would be remiss today if I did not also raise serious objections to Jeffrey Clark, who has been nominated to serve as Associate Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, and Eric Dreiband, who has been nominated to serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

Both Mr. Clark and Mr. Dreiband have made careers out of trying to undo the environmental and civil rights legal protections they would be tasked with defending if confirmed to their respective positions in the Department of Justice.

Mr. Clark, who would be tasked with defending the responsible stewardship of our environment, has spent his career working to advance the interests of corporations and special interests over the public good, having represented a major oil company responsible for catastrophic environmental damage and having worked to challenge laws that protect Americans’ civil rights to clean air. Remarkably, he has referred to the science behind climate change as “contestable.”

Mr. Dreiband, who would be tasked with upholding our nation’s civil rights laws, has spent his career working to advance corporate and special interests over the civil rights of transgender Americans, women’s rights, older Americans and Black and Latino Americans facing discrimination in the workplace.

The American people deserve better than these nominees—they deserve a head of the Natural Resources Division that will protect the rights of their children to breathe clean air, to drink clean water—not someone who has spent their career trying to undo these protections.

The American people deserve a head of the Civil Rights Division who is committed to defending the civil rights of LGBTQ Americans, Black and Latino Americans and Women—not someone who has spent their career advancing corporate interests over the rights of the American people.

The American people deserve better, and I know we can do better.

Judges in places like North Carolina’s Eastern District and attorneys in positions as critical as the Natural Resources Division and Civil Rights Division of the DOJ will have the opportunity to shape and define American history for decades to come.

And even more importantly, these nominees will have the opportunity to affect the lives and livelihoods of everyday Americans from the moment they are confirmed—

They will have the opportunity to either suppress or protect the rights of Americans to exercise their right to vote, to breathe clean air, to drink clean water, to work free from discrimination, to make their own decisions about their healthcare, about who they love and how they pray.

We owe the American people better than the nominees President Trump has put forward, and especially better than Mr. Farr, Mr. Clark and Mr. Dreiband. I urge my colleagues on the committee to reject their nominations.

Thank you.

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