WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nominations of four federal judges on Thursday, also unanimously approving President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the National Security Division of the Justice Department.
Two of the votes for the federal judges were contentious, with Thomas Farr, nominated for a judgeship in the Eastern District of North Carolina, and William Ray, who was tapped for a judgeship in the Northern District of Georgia, advancing with 11-9, party-line votes.
At his confirmation hearing, Farr faced questions about his work defending North Carolina in a series of challenges to its new voting laws, including a set of voter identification and registration laws the Fourth Circuit found targeted African-American voters with “almost surgical precision.”
Farr told Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., he believes the legislature had legitimate reasons to enact the laws that had nothing to do with race.
“At the time our clients enacted those laws, I do not believe they thought they were purposefully discriminating against African Americans,” Farr said.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other civil rights organizations wrote letters to the Judiciary Committee urging its members to oppose Farr’s nomination, largely due to his record on civil rights.
The Congressional Black Caucus similarly opposed the nomination, pointing out that during the Obama administration Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., blocked two black women from taking the seat Farr will likely fill.
“Given all these concerns, we cannot state forcefully enough our opposition to the nomination of Thomas Farr,” the Congressional Black Caucus said in its letter to the judiciary committee. “It is no exaggeration to say that had the White House deliberately sought to identify an attorney in North Carolina with a more hostile record on African-American voting rights and workers’ rights than Thomas Farr, it could hardly have done so.”
President George W. Bush nominated Farr for a seat on the same court in 2006, but Democrats blocked him, leaving it open for President Barack Obama, who also faced partisan obstruction of his two choices for the position.
Ray, who currently sits on the Georgia Court of Appeals, faced questions at his hearing over his opposition to a federal hate crimes bill while he was serving in the Georgia State Senate. Ray told Klobuchar he believed the bill did little to change the penalties for people convicted of a hate crime and that it improperly took the decision of whether to attach hate crime enhancements from juries and gave it to judges.
“I felt like at that point in time that it was simply a political statement that was being made, Ray said at last month’s hearing.
The committee also unanimously approved U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama nominee Annemarie Axon and U.S. District Court for the District of Georgia nominee Michael Brown.
Axon has worked in private practice for almost 20 years, and once unsuccessfully defended the Palestinian Authority from a lawsuit brought by families of Americans who died in Hamas terrorist attacks.
Brown, who defends white-color criminals at the Atlanta firm Alston Bird, spent the first portion of his career as a federal prosecutor.
The nomination of John Demers to serve as the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division was similarly uncontroversial, with Republicans and Democrats alike praising him before the vote.
Demers received a letter of support signed by all five people who have led the National Security Division, including three Obama appointees and two Bush picks. The letter praised Demers for a “wealth of national security experience,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said before Thursday’s vote.
Demers, who clerked for late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, worked at the National Security Division from 2006 to 2009 before taking over as vice president and assistant general counsel at Boeing. The Judiciary Committee unanimously approved his nomination on Thursday, also doing the same with four United States attorneys.
All of the nominees the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced on Thursday must receive approval from the full Senate before taking their positions.