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Equal justice under law includes a fair judiciary

  • Author: Kevin D. McGee
    | Opinion
  • Updated: June 20, 2018
  • Published June 20, 2018

The U.S. Senate recently confirmed three more federal judicial nominees, raising the total number of judges appointed by Donald Trump to 31. The Senate is trying to confirm as many judges as possible before the November election, when the Senate may change hands and put the brakes on. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said, "I believe that's the most important thing we're doing."

Confirming federal judges is one of the Senate's most critical and lasting responsibilities. Appointed for life, judges should be fair, independent and committed to equal justice under law. The courts they preside over ensure that civil rights statutes prohibiting racial and other discrimination are preserved and respected. These laws include the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, whose 50th anniversary we celebrated in April.

The Trump administration is trying to remake the federal courts, one appointment at a time. The commitment to diversity — long shared by presidents of both parties — no longer exists. Of 106 nominations, only one is African American. Many nominees are dangerous ideologues who show contempt for the rule of law even on the fundamental principle of equality. Consider Louisiana nominee Wendy Vitter, who refused to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided.

I am urging our two senators to reject the nomination of Thomas Farr, one of the next nominees to be voted upon by the Senate. Even among a parade of horribles, Mr. Farr stands out with his anti-civil rights record.

Nominated to the Eastern District of North Carolina where many African Americans reside, Mr. Farr is a throwback to an era we thought was long behind us. He learned how to battle civil rights from his mentor, North Carolina's notorious segregationist Sen. Jesse Helms. Sen. Helms taught him everything he knows, and Mr. Farr has made him proud.

Mr. Farr aligned himself with white supremacists in the truest sense. He had ties to the Pioneer Fund, one of the nation's oldest hate groups founded in 1937 to study "racial betterment." The Pioneer Fund sponsored research into theories that African Americans were genetically inferior to whites. Its political connections ran straight through Helms and his vast enterprise that thrived on racial division.

Mr. Farr played a role in the some of the country's most racist political campaigns, including Helms' campaign for Senate in 1984, cited by a court as an example of how racism continued to flourish in North Carolina politics. Mr. Farr engaged in voter intimidation during Sen. Helms' 1990 campaign against Harvey Gantt, the first black mayor of Charlotte. Mr. Gantt was gaining ground, so the Helms team plotted to intimidate African Americans from voting by sending them postcards, warning they could face prison time for voting. This was so egregious that the Republican-led Justice Department charged them with Voting Rights Act violations.

Mr. Farr's efforts to disenfranchise black voters continued to the present. He helped to craft and defend North Carolina's "monster voter suppression law," which a federal appellate court ruled was intentionally discriminatory and targeted African Americans with "almost surgical precision."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously stated, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This applies to the federal courts, too. This is why the NAACP in Alaska care about a judgeship in North Carolina. We cannot allow someone ardently opposed to equal rights to assume the bench anywhere. It threatens our justice system everywhere.

We need Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan to stand on the right side of civil rights history when it comes to voting on the Farr nomination.

Kevin D. McGee is the president of the Anchorage branch #1000 of the NAACP.

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