November 27, 2018

Harris on Farr Nomination: We Must Do Better

Video of Harris’ Remarks

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U. S. Senator Kamala D. Harris, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke out on the United States Senate floor against the nomination of Thomas Farr to be District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

 

“The way I see it, if it’s something worth fighting for, it’s a fight worth having,” said Senator Harris. “And this fight against Thomas Farr is a fight worth having. Because Mr. Farr is far from what we should accept in a nominee. And I know we can do better. And we must do better.”

 

Key quotes from Harris’ remarks:

 

  • “I always say your voice is your vote and your vote is your voice. And in the recent midterm elections, we saw that there are still powerful forces in our country willing to go to incredible lengths to deny Americans their right to vote… Five years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Congress is the only body that has the authority to restore and should now, therefore, be taking steps to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act…Why? Because the more people who can readily participate in our democracy, the more our government will be responsive to the people we are elected to represent. And yet instead of Congress acting to strengthen access to the ballot, the Senate is considering Thomas Farr for a lifetime appointment to the District Court of the Eastern District of North Carolina. A nominee who has consistently and for decades put limits on the ability of Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”

 

  • “Mr. Farr’s public comments raise questions about his judgment as well. For instance, he has compared the decision upholding the Affordable Care Act to the Dred Scott and Plessy decisions. Now for a reminder, Dred Scott, a case that said that African Americans could not be citizens. Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of segregation. Both now nearly universally considered shameful decisions. The idea that a decision upholding the expansion of healthcare for millions of Americans is remotely comparable to these rulings should be utterly offensive to anyone who knows anything about America’s history. These are statements of an ideologue, not even someone who understands that their interpretation of these rulings should be something that people will, if they’re not careful, rely on. So these are the statements of an ideologue, not an even-handed and unbiased judge.”

 

  • “The people of North Carolina deserve better…More than a quarter of the population covered by the Eastern District is Black. Nearly 27%. Yet there has never been a Black federal judge serving the Eastern District of North Carolina in the court’s 146-year history. In 2013, President Obama nominated Jennifer May-Parker, an Assistant United States Attorney and Chief of the Appellate Division of the United States Attorney’s office, and she is Black…But that nomination was blocked. In 2016, President Obama nominated Patricia Timmons-Goodson, a Justice who served on the North Carolina Supreme Court, who is also Black. That nomination was also held up… And instead of two highly-qualified women, Senate Republicans want to fill this vacancy with someone who is an anathema to so many of our communities and in particular, communities of color. So I would echo the North Carolina NAACP which said that, “If this nomination is confirmed, it represents an historic insult to justice and to the people of North Carolina.”

 

Full transcript of Harris’ remarks:

 

Mr. President, a key component of our democracy is access to the ballot.

 

The Supreme Court acknowledged in Reynolds v. Sims that “the right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society. Especially since the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights. Any alleged infringement of the right of citizens to vote must be carefully and meticulously scrutinized.”

 

I always say your voice is your vote and your vote is your voice. And in the recent midterm elections, we saw that there are still powerful forces in our country willing to go to incredible lengths to deny Americans their right to vote.

 

And it is indeed outrageous that some voters in Georgia had to wait 4 hours to vote. And a candidate for governor was the one responsible for overseeing his own election.

 

That Native Americans and their IDs were not accepted at polling places in North Dakota.

 

That nearly 20% of North Carolina early voting locations were closed this year.

 

Five years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Congress is the only body that has the authority to restore and should now, therefore, be taking steps to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. Should be taking steps to expand early voting and automatic voter registration. Why? Because the more people who can readily participate in our democracy, the more our government will be responsive to the people we are elected to represent.

 

And yet instead of Congress acting to strengthen access to the ballot, the Senate is considering Thomas Farr for a lifetime appointment to the District Court of the Eastern District of North Carolina. A nominee who has consistently and for decades put limits on the ability of Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote. 

 

Just look at the facts.

 

Mr. Farr defended North Carolina’s 2013 voting restrictions law, a law that would have required photo IDs, which disproportionately impacted Black voters. At the same time, they prohibited certain IDs, such as student IDs or public employee IDs.

 

This law also reduced same-day registration and early voting.

 

A law that was so clearly unconstitutional that the Fourth Circuit described the law as targeting Black voters with “almost surgical precision.”

 

The Fourth Circuit went on to call it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”

 

The facts also include that Mr. Farr represented the North Carolina legislature in multiple challenges to its 2011 Congressional and legislative redistricting.

 

This was an attempt to draw Congressional boundaries in ways that disadvantaged Black voters for partisan gain.

 

Those maps were later struck down as unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

 

Mr. Farr has also repeatedly represented powerful employers against the rights of workers and customers to be treated equally.

 

For example, he represented a rental car company that allegedly imposed additional requirements on Black customers.

 

He also represented a pharmaceutical company against allegations of gender discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation.

 

Now, to be clear, attorneys are not charged, nor should they be, with the views of their clients. But when such a significant part of your decades-long record involves defending clients charged with discrimination and defending laws that undermine the right to vote, it is reasonable to question whether that individual can be a fair and impartial judge of similar cases.

 

And Mr. Farr’s public comments raise questions about his judgment as well.

 

For instance, he has compared the decision upholding the Affordable Care Act to the Dred Scott and Plessy decisions.

 

Now for a reminder, Dred Scott, a case that said that African Americans could not be citizens. Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of segregation. Both now nearly universally considered shameful decisions.

 

The idea that a decision upholding the expansion of healthcare for millions of Americans is remotely comparable to these rulings should be utterly offensive to anyone who knows anything about America’s history.

 

These are statements of an ideologue, not even someone who understands that their interpretation of these rulings should be something that people will, if they’re not careful, rely on. So these are the statements of an ideologue, not an even-handed and unbiased judge.

 

The people of North Carolina deserve better.

 

And let’s be clear about who many of these people are. More than a quarter of the population covered by the Eastern District is Black. Nearly 27%.

 

Yet there has never been a Black federal judge serving the Eastern District of North Carolina in the court’s 146-year history.

 

In 2013, President Obama nominated Jennifer May-Parker, an Assistant United States Attorney and Chief of the Appellate Division of the United States Attorney’s office, and she is Black, and she was appointed to this vacancy, a position Senator Burr had previously recommended her for. But that nomination was blocked.

 

In 2016, President Obama nominated Patricia Timmons-Goodson, a Justice who served on the North Carolina Supreme Court, who is also Black. That nomination was also held up.

 

As a result, this is now the longest judicial vacancy in the federal court system. And instead of two highly-qualified women, Senate Republicans want to fill this vacancy with someone who is an anathema to so many of our communities and in particular, communities of color.

 

So I would echo the North Carolina NAACP which said that, “If this nomination is confirmed, it represents an historic insult to justice and to the people of North Carolina.”

 

Now I know there are folks who might consider the odds of stopping this nominee and throw in the towel. But the way I see it, if it’s something worth fighting for, it’s a fight worth having. If it’s something worth fighting for, it’s a fight worth having. And this fight against Thomas Farr is a fight worth having.

 

Because Mr. Farr is far from what we should accept in a nominee. And I know we can do better. And we must do better. I yield the floor.

 

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