GOP senator announces opposition, possibly dooming controversial Trump judicial nominee

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottGOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Tim Scott: Sanders would be toughest challenger for Trump House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime MORE (R-S.C.) said Thursday that he will oppose Thomas Farr, a controversial district court nominee from President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE, denying him the votes to be confirmed. 

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“This afternoon I concluded that I could not support Mr. Farr’s nomination," Scott said in a statement first reported by The State, a South Carolina newspaper.

With Scott as a "no" vote, Farr, who was nominated to be a judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina, will not have the 50 votes required for Vice President Pence break a tie, as he did Wednesday to get Farr around a procedural hurdle. 

In addition to Scott, every Democrat as well as Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeAppeals court refuses to throw out Joe Arpaio's guilty verdict after Trump pardon 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents McSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad MORE (R-Ariz.) are expected to oppose Farr. Flake is voting "no" on every judicial nominee until he gets a vote on legislation to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE from being fired. 

Flake told NBC News and other outlets on Thursday that he is opposing Farr "regardless" of the stalemate on the Mueller legislation, saying the "questions with regard to the Jesse Helms letter have never been answered to my satisfaction."

GOP Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Murkowski, Manchin introduce major energy legislation The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump on US coronavirus risks: 'We're very, very ready for this' GOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats Chamber looks to support Democratic allies in 2020 MORE (Maine) both indicated to reporters that they were on the fence about Farr, after voting to advance him on Wednesday, suggesting his nomination could have faced further trouble among Senate Republicans.

But Scott was considered the vote to watch on Farr's nomination. He waited roughly half an hour on Wednesday before providing the 50th vote to let Pence break a tie and advance Farr's nomination and stressed to reporters afterward that he had not made a final decision on confirming him.

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about whether it would withdraw the nomination in the wake of Farr not having the votes to be confirmed. 

Farr’s nomination drew intense opposition from Democrats and their outside group allies, who warn that, if confirmed, he’ll use his position as a federal judge to rule against minorities.

Scott, the Senate's only black Republican, pointed to a 1990s Justice Department investigation into Jesse Helm's Senate campaign for mailing postcards to more than 120,000 North Carolinians, most of whom were black voters, suggesting they were ineligible to vote and could be prosecuted for voter fraud.

The Washington Post published a memo this week that outlined the Justice Department's case. Scott cited the memo as influential to his decision to oppose Farr. 

"This week, a Department of Justice memo written under President George H.W. Bush was released that shed new light on Mr. Farr’s activities. This, in turn, created more concerns," Scott said in a statement. 

He added that he is "ready and willing to support strong candidates for our judicial vacancies that do not have lingering concerns about issues that could affect their decision-making process as a federal judge, and I am proud that Senate Republicans have confirmed judges at a historical rate over the past two years."

Farr — in response to questions from Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCalifornia lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe House passes bipartisan bill to create women's history museum MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee — said he did was not involved in crafting the postcards.

“I was not aware that the cards had been sent until they had been sent and the manager of the Helms Committee received a letter about the cards from the Voting Rights Section of the United States Department of Justice. The manager of the Helms Committee then called me for legal advice,” he added in his written responses to questions from the Judiciary Committee.

Farr was also part of a group of lawyers hired to defend congressional and legislative boundaries approved by the North Carolina legislature, some of which were later struck down in federal court. 

It's not the first time Scott has opposed a Trump nominee over racial concerns.

Scott announced in July that he would oppose the circuit court nomination of Ryan Bounds, who faced criticism because of controversial college writings that voiced skepticism about race-focused groups and questioned the need for diversity training. Bounds's nomination was quickly withdrawn in the wake of Scott's opposition.

Scott, this week, warned that the Republican Party is not doing enough to bridge the country's racial divide.

"We're not doing a very good job of avoiding the obvious potholes on race in America and we ought to be more sensitive," Scott said, adding that there were picks other than Farr for the district court seat.

Democrats and outside groups immediately praised Scott's decision. Democrats nixed the 60-vote filibuster for lower court nominees in 2013, leaving them unable to block Trump's picks on their own.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer Sanders blasts Trump for picking 'completely unqualified' Pence for coronavirus response Trump passes Pence a dangerous buck Democratic mega-donor reaching out to Pelosi, Schumer in bid to stop Sanders: report MORE (D-N.Y.) and other members of his caucus have used press conferences and several floor speech this week to try to convince enough Republican senators to oppose Farr.

“Senator Tim Scott has done a courageous thing, and he’s done the right thing. Thomas Farr has been involved in the sordid practice of voter suppression for decades and never should have been nominated, let alone confirmed to the bench. Thankfully, he won’t be," Schumer said in a statement.

-- Updated 6:14 p.m.