The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced a controversial nominee to fill the longest vacancy in the federal court system as well as a top Justice Department official.
The committee voted 11-9 along party lines to advance Thomas Farr to be a judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The spot has been open for 12 years and has long been caught up in the politics of the state and U.S. Senate. Since judicial nominees can’t be filibustered, Democrats don’t have the votes to stop Farr’s lifetime appointment without help from Republicans.
Farr was first nominated for the spot by President George W. Bush in 2006, but Democrats blocked the GOP-led Senate from taking action. President Barack Obama’s nominees for the seat, both of whom would have been the first black federal judge in the district, were blocked by Republicans via the blue-slip process.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, used the seat as an example Thursday to illustrate why she thinks Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa should keep that tradition, which means not holding hearings for judicial nominees if a home-state senator doesn’t return a blue piece of paper to the committee.
“It’s important to be honest about how my colleagues regularly used blue slips during the last administration,” Feinstein said. “Democratic senators should not be treated worse than Republican senators were.”
Grassley has made statements that he is open to lifting the blue-slip tradition for circuit court nominees, but has not announced any change in the tradition.
President Donald Trump’s pick of Farr has drawn the opposition of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights groups in part because of his past work defending the state’s congressional redistricting plans and voter ID law, which courts have struck down as unfair to minorities.
North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis said Thursday that Farr is well-qualified and had support from across the ideological spectrum. Farr is a Raleigh-based lawyer who often represented Republicans in North Carolina and worked on issues of constitutional law, employment law and worker safety.
In other action, the committee unanimously voted to advance the nomination of John Demers to lead the Justice Department’s national security division, which oversees the department’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations.