WASHINGTON (CN) – The fate of a nominee to a North Carolina federal court appears uncertain as senators have raised concerns about his record on voting rights and his work on a political campaign that sent out mailers a Justice Department memo called an attempt to intimidate African American voters.
The Senate on Thursday pushed back a vote on Thomas Farr, an attorney with the Raleigh, N.C., firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart who is nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The move comes one day after the Senate narrowly advanced his nomination, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tiebreaking vote.
Farr’s confirmation vote was scheduled for noon on Thursday, but roughly an hour before the vote was to take place, GOP leadership moved it back until next week.
Senator John Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, told reporters leadership delayed the vote because Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., could not attend due to a death in the family.
However, he also said Republicans are still working on assuaging concerns Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., has raised about Farr’s nomination.
“We’re still talking to Senator Scott, he’s got legitimate concerns that we’re trying to resolve, but I’m optimistic we can, but it remains to be seen,” Cornyn told reporters.
In addition to defending a North Carolina voting law a federal court found targeted African Americans with "almost surgical precision," Farr also was part of a legal team that defended the state’s legislative map following the 2010 census. A district court panel invalidated portions of the map, calling it “among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court.”
Farr also worked on the 1990 campaign of Senator Jesse Helms, which sent out postcards with information about voter fraud that were criticized as an effort to intimidate African American voters. Farr has denied knowing about the postcards ahead of time and told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he played no role in drafting them and did not participate in any meetings in which they were discussed.
Scott, the only African American Republican in the Senate, told reporters Thursday he and a group of other senators have heard from the author of a 1991 Justice Department memo that recommended a complaint be filed against the North Carolina Republican Party and Helms' campaign for attempting to "intimidate and threaten black voters."
Scott told reporters he is still determining how he will vote when Farr's nomination comes back to the Senate floor.
"We're still continuing the process and studying the issue and it's important for me to do so," Scott said. "When I come to a conclusion, I'll make it public."
It would not be the first time Scott has imperiled a Trump judicial nominee, as he was key earlier this year in sinking Ninth Circuit nominee Ryan Bounds, who faced scrutiny for racially insensitive writings as an undergrad.
When asked Thursday if Farr still has the votes to earn confirmation, Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said he is "still working on it."
Further complicating Farr’s nomination is Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has vowed not to support a Trump judicial nominee until the Senate votes on a bill aimed at protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Flake’s vote against Farr was the reason Pence’s tie-breaking vote was necessary on Wednesday, as all Democrats have united against Farr’s nomination.
But on Thursday, Flake said he plans to oppose Farr whether or not he gets his desired vote on the special counsel legislation, likely making Scott's ultimate vote decisive.
"It's just one thing after another after another," Flake said. "I did vote for him in committee. Additional information has come to light, I've studied it more at least, about decisions that he's made to defend certain maps or whatever else and then questions with regards to the Jesse Helms letter I don't think he answered to my satisfaction."
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