Read: The long, bitter fight over Thomas Farr
Farr has spent much of his post-Helms career attempting to weaken the influence of black voters or to keep them from the polls. He defended gerrymandered maps that were drawn with race as “the legislature’s paramount concern.” He defended a North Carolina voting law that a federal court said targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” In response to the the court’s ruling finding that the North Carolina voting restrictions “constituted racial discrimination,” Farr said the decision “insults the people of North Carolina and their elected representatives by convicting them of abject racism.” Attempting to disenfranchise or otherwise diminish the power of black voters was not, in Farr’s view, cause for outrage. Rather, it was accurately describing those attempts as targeting black voters that he found offensive.
If Donald Trump’s administration had its way, Farr would be a federal judge. Senator Tim Scott scuttled Farr’s nomination on Thursday by joining his colleague Jeff Flake in opposition. Scott said he could not support Farr following the release of the 1991 Justice Department memo that “shed new light on Mr. Farr’s activities.” In July, Scott sank the nomination of Ryan Bounds, whose past writings were replete with racist generalizations. But neither of these men should ever have been nominated in the first place, and blocking their confirmation should not have rested on the conscience of the Republican Party’s only black senator. If the Republicans decide to renominate Farr when the new Senate is inaugurated, then Scott’s stand will be insufficient to stop him.
The fact that Farr came so close to being seated on the federal bench is a symptom of a greater sickness afflicting American democracy, which is that one of the two major parties has decided that disenfranchising a core constituency of its rival party is a legitimate political approach. The polarization of the two parties into one that is almost entirely white and one that relies substantially on the support of racial and ethnic minorities has exacerbated a trend toward conservatives believing that their opponents’ political victories are illegitimate. It is no coincidence that the voter-fraud conspiracies of Trump and his defenders center around undocumented immigrants or black neighborhoods—alleging criminality allows them to suggest political victories that rely on minority voters are usurpations, without saying so explicitly.
Read: The Senate’s only black Republican opens up about being mistreated by cops.
The rhetoric with which conservatives describe elements of the Democratic coalition—black voters are frequently described as being stuck on a “plantation”—denies black agency and also Republicans’ responsibility for their difficulties attracting minority voters. Suggesting that voters of color are somehow coerced or brainwashed into voting for Democrats not only justifies efforts to disenfranchise them, it means that criticism of the Republican Party’s record on racism can easily be dismissed as fake news.