photo from The Course Correction
With GOP members of Congress shirking their duty as a check and balance on the Executive Branch, the courts and we the voters stand as the last bastion between democracy and the Trumpocalypse. We have recently seen how important the courts have been with decisions like protecting freedom of the press with the reinstatement of Jim Acosta’s White House press pass and just today a federal judge issuing a temporary restraining order against the administration’s attempt to deny asylum seekers due process. Two weeks ago we witnessed the power of the vote. But what happens when both the courts and the ballot box are being compromised?
That’s exactly what’s happening with the current nominee Mitch McConnell is ramming through to confirmation. Thomas Farr, a Republican lawyer and longtime political operative, has been nominated for a lifetime judgeship in the Eastern District of North Carolina. But this is not Farr’s only claim to fame. He gained recognition decades ago as a protégé of Senator Jesse Helms. That last “accolade” should be enough to put the brakes on this train.
A word about Jesse Helms. One would have hoped that the likes of segregationist politicians such as Helms, Thurmond, and others would have been consigned to the dustbin of history. But with the advent of Trump, racist skeletons are again rattling in the closet. As Thomas Goldsmith writes in IndyWeek describing Helms’ successful 1984 reelection bid, “Never underestimate the power of the dog whistle.” Helms, U.S. Senator of North Carolina from 1973-2002, was one of the most ardent conservatives in Congress. He believed protections like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were federal intrusions in matters better left to the states. Nicknamed “Senator No”, he was notoriously opposed to women’s productive freedom, gay rights, disability rights, the Food Stamp Program, and affirmative action.
Sounds like a real charmer, right? So where does Thomas Farr fit into the picture? As an attorney, Farr served as legal counsel to Helms’ ’84 and ’90 election campaigns, both marred by blatant attempts at suppressing the African American vote with misleading and intimidating mail campaigns and racist TV ads. One postcard mailer led voters to believe they were ineligible to vote and would be prosecuted for fraud if they tried. Last November, The NAACP Legal Defense Fund asked for Farr to be called back to the Judiciary Committee, claiming he misled Senators regarding his role in the postcard mailing scheme during his testimony. As the Reverend William J. Barber, the former head of the state NAACP, wrote at the time, Farr is "a product of the modern white supremacist machine that Mr. Helms pioneered."
In more recent history, Farr defended North Carolina’s discriminatory voter ID law, which the courts ruled targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision”. He also defended North Carolina’s 2011 legislative districts which were ruled “illegally racially gerrymandered”, 28 of which were ordered to be redrawn. Throughout his career, Farr has aligned himself with politicians like Helms who were hostile to communities of color. By far the most disturbing part of Farr’s past is his association with the pro-eugenics Pioneer Fund, founded in 1937 to pursue “race betterment” for those “deemed to be descended predominantly from white persons who settled in the original thirteen states prior to the adoption of the Constitution”. The Pioneer Fund was one of the largest monetary backers of the fight against civil rights in the South. Read more here about Farr’s connections to Helms and the Pioneer Fund here.
Just looking at what happened in Georgia’s gubernatorial election is reason enough for concern over voting rights. Democratic leaders in the House have said they will restore key parts of the Voting Rights Act when they assume the majority in January. But if we don’t protect the courts from dangerous ideologues like Farr, their legislation can only go – well, so far. The vote on Farr is scheduled for the Monday after Thanksgiving. We don’t get to directly participate, but we still have the power of the pen and the phone. I’ve already given our senators a ring. How about you?
posted by Amy Levengood
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