NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 14: U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) addresses the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) March 14, 2013 in...
Alex Wong

Tim Scott takes issue with the right’s ‘racial reconciliation efforts’

Updated

Donald Trump has sent some controversial judicial nominees to the Senate for lifetime positions on the federal bench, but few district court nominees have been as controversial as Thomas Farr.

As regular readers (and viewers) know, in 1990, Farr was a lawyer for then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in a year in which the notoriously racist senator sent 125,000 postcards to black households in North Carolina, trying to intimidate African-American voters. The scheme drew a civil complaint from the Justice Department, which ultimately led Farr to sign a consent decree.

In the years that followed, Farr proceeded to develop and implement some of the most racially-specific voter-suppression tactics ever seen in the United States. Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to Al Gore and Joe Biden, said he’d worked on federal judicial nominations for more than 30 years, and he considered Farr the worst he’s ever seen.

In a bit of a surprise, Farr’s nomination was defeated a couple of months ago when Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the Senate’s only African-American Republican, balked. The GOP senator votes with Donald Trump in nearly every instance, but this nominee was a bridge too far.

Nevertheless, the right hasn’t given up on getting the conservative on the federal bench, and this week, 31 conservative leaders, activists, elected officials, and attorneys sent a letter to Tim Scott, urging him to change his mind. Their letter was not well received.

“For some reason the authors of this letter choose to ignore … facts, and instead implicate that I have been co-opted by the left and am incapable of my own decision making,” Scott said in a statement to McClatchy, adding he votes for Republican judicial nominees “99 percent of the time.”

“Why they have chosen to expend so much energy on this particular nomination I do not know, but what I do know is they have not spent anywhere near as much time on true racial reconciliation efforts, decrying comments by those like (Republican U.S. Rep.) Steve King, or working to move our party together towards a stronger, more unified future,” Scott continued.

I have no idea if conservatives will take the senator’s letter to heart, but here’s hoping they do.

This was not Tim Scott’s first attempt to explain himself in the wake of the Farr nomination’s demise. Last month, the GOP senator wrote a letter to the editor to the Wall Street Journal, sending an unmistakable message to the newspaper’s conservative editorial board – and in the process, sending a related message to the White House.

I am saddened that in the editorial “Democrats and Racial Division” (Dec. 1) you attempt to deflect the concerns regarding Thomas Farr’s nomination to the federal bench. While you are right that his nomination should be seen through a wider lens, the solution isn’t simply to decry “racial attacks.” Instead, we should stop bringing candidates with questionable track records on race before the full Senate for a vote. […]

We must not seek to sow the seeds of discord, but rather embrace the power of unity. Simply put, if the Senate votes on a candidate that doesn’t move us in that direction, I will not support him or her. Our country deserves better.

Circling back to our coverage at the time, Tim Scott may not be a moderate, but he is willing to draw a line: he won’t just blindly follow his party when it comes to nominees with racially provocative pasts.

It’s a welcome sentiment, though it raises a related question: why does it fall on Scott’s shoulders alone to raise this objection?

The GOP senator currently has 52 Republican colleagues, each of whom have access to the same information, and each of whom are being asked to confirm the same nominees. Why is it, exactly, that the conference’s only black member has to be the one to call on his party to “stop bringing candidates with questionable track records on race before the full Senate for a vote”?

At best, the answer is that 52 of the 53 Senate Republicans are simply acting on partisan instinct, reluctant to say no to Trump, and not giving these votes a whole lot of thought. If the GOP president wants these nominees confirmed to lifetime positions on the federal bench, the argument goes, then it’s incumbent on GOP senators to toe the line, and not look too closely at the nominees’ records.

An alternative explanation is that 52 of the 53 Senate Republicans recognize that some of Trump’s judicial nominees have “questionable track records on race,” but that doesn’t bother them, at least not enough to oppose the would-be judges.