This should not have been a close call for Tim Scott, the black Republican representing South Carolina in the U.S. Senate, the first black man to be elected to such a seat from a Deep South state since Reconstruction, the black man who took to the Senate floor a few years ago to speak passionately about racial profiling.
He should have quickly opposed the nomination of Thomas Farr for a federal judgeship in eastern North Carolina. Instead, he remained in the Senate cloakroom for nearly an hour before finally voting to advance the nomination. While he still has a chance to scuttle the nomination, there was no good reason for him to have not done it today. He cast the 50th vote in favor of Farr, which triggered a tie that was quickly broken by Vice President Mike Pence.
I don’t know what Scott will do on the final vote, if he will actually stop Farr from taking a seat that should have gone to qualified black women nominees during the Obama era—nominations that were stopped by a Republican Party that showed no remorse as it voted again and again against well-qualified Obama nominees.
In this case, Scott should have voted against Farr because of Farr’s well-documented history of devising plans to disenfranchise black voters. Why would Scott want a man like that placed in an incredibly important position in the nation’s judicial system, the system that will determine just how far the GOP will be allowed to go as it continues trying to roll back the clock on voting rights?
That’s the real reason Scott should vote against Farr. Here’s a practical one: In January, Republicans will have two extra votes in the Senate, meaning Scott can vote no this week, as well as on the final vote, and Farr would still likely get nominated. In other words, there is no good reason for him to vote for Farr.
And while it is true that it is unfair that Scott alone has been left with this burden, in large part because he’s black, and that white and Latino Republican Senators should be shamed for not giving a damn about the voting rights of black and poor people, Scott must stand firm. (Scott has the power to block the nomination because Republican Sen. Jeff Flake voted no, as Flake said he would on all judicial nominations until the Senate advances legislation to protect the Mueller probe.)
McClatchy summed up Farr’s controversial history this way:
Farr, now a 64-year-old attorney, was a senior aide on the 1990 reelection campaign of late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, against black Democrat Harvey Gantt. The campaign famously sent postcards to black residents containing incorrect information about voter qualifications, intended to create the impression that African Americans could be arrested if they cast ballots on Election Day.
In 2013, Farr was hired by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state legislature to defend a highly controversial voter ID law that critics say was designed to disenfranchise black voters. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel struck down the law in 2016, concluding that it targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
Scott has a history of speaking passionately about civil rights—I’ve personally heard him do it—and for the advancement of racial equality. He has even worked with Democratic senators like Cory Booker to push for critical criminal justice reform legislation.
I’m hoping that side of Scott shows up before it’s too late to stop Farr. But, of course, Scott stumped, supported and voted for Donald Trump during the 2016 general election, so there’s that.