Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

‘Demand Justice’ Smears Judicial Nominee Farr

In case anyone thought that there weren’t already enough groups on the Left engaged in judicial-confirmation battles, a new group calling itself Demand Justice has recently come into existence. According to this New York Times article, Demand Justice has been “formed by veterans of Capitol Hill, the White House and the Clinton and Obama campaigns” and “hopes to become a permanent fixture motivating progressive voters on issues related to the federal judiciary.”

Alas, if this early foray by Demand Justice—an online ad against federal district nominee Thomas Farr—is any indication, Demand Justice has determined that smearing judicial nominees is the best way to motivate progressive voters. The ad presents President Trump’s nomination of Farr as evidence that “hate is on the march” and urges viewers to call their senators “and tell them to stand up to hate.”

As I’ve noted before, in response to a related attack, the American Bar Association’s judicial-evaluations committee, after an extensive investigation into Farr’s qualifications, awarded him a unanimous “well qualified” rating. According to the ABA Backgrounder, that rating means that the ABA committee determined (among other things) that Farr has the “highest reputation for integrity” and “demonstrate[s] the capacity for sound judicial temperament,” including “freedom from bias and commitment to equal justice under the law.”

In the face of this unanimous “well qualified” rating by the ABA, consider the flimsy claims that Demand Justice makes against Farr:

1. Demand Justice asserts that “Farr helped draft a voting law that a federal court said ‘targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.’”

For starters, Farr advised the North Carolina House of Representatives, not the North Carolina Senate. The House proposal addressed only photo ID and was loose enough to allow a college ID to serve as a photo ID. The omnibus bill that became law came from the Senate and combined a stricter photo-ID measure with various other changes, including eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting and reducing the days for early voting. Farr had no role in drafting the Senate legislation.

Farr, I’ll note, was later retained by the state legislature to defend the challenged law. A Fourth Circuit panel, consisting entirely of Democratic appointees, did state that the law (which, again, Farr did not help draft) “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.” But that statement is an obviously hyperbolic version of the panel’s more modest conclusion that the legislation “disproportionately affected African Americans.” Further, lest one imagine that no reasonable minds could differ on the compliance of the North Carolina law with the Constitution and federal statutes, I’ll point out that the district judge (a Republican appointee) rejected the challenges to the law. In any event, Demand Justice evidently recognizes that it can’t fairly fault Farr for representing his clients in court; that presumably is why it has accused him—falsely—of having helped to draft the law.

2. Demand Justice asserts that “Farr even gave a speech in honor of the director of a hate group that funded studies claiming blacks are genetically inferior to whites.”

Let’s look at what underlies this.

In October 2007, Hillsdale College presented Farr’s longtime senior law partner Tom Ellis with its Freedom Leadership Award. Ellis, then 87 years old, was a prominent conservative leader in North Carolina and an important early supporter of Ronald Reagan’s candidacy for president. Farr, who was an alumnus of Hillsdale, was asked to serve as the master of ceremonies for the event. Hillsdale’s president Larry Arnn gave the principal speech. In his role as emcee, Farr offered some general praise of his own. Numerous federal and state judges attended the event.

Some decades earlier,* Ellis had been a director of a group called the Pioneer Fund, which had indeed funded controversial eugenics studies. In response to written post-hearing questions, Farr has testified that he has “never had any relationship of any kind” with the Pioneer Fund.

In short, Farr made remarks at a Hillsdale College event honoring his longtime senior law partner for his conservative leadership. There is zero reason to believe that Hillsdale College honored Ellis, or that Farr praised Ellis, because of his decades-earlier involvement with the Pioneer Fund.

3. Demand Justice asserts that “Civil rights leaders call Farr ‘an advocate for… segregationist causes.’” Demand Justice is quoting from Rev. Dr. William Barber, II’s letter to the Judiciary Committee. Parroting someone else’s claims does not make them true. (I have already addressed in this post and my earlier one the lead falsehoods in Barber’s letter.)

* This article refers to Ellis as a “former board member of the Pioneer Fund” in 1985. I don’t know at what earlier date his board membership ended.

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