NCGOP attorney known for redistricting cases dead at 69

Thomas Farr
FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Thomas Farr is sworn in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Farr, a longtime redistricting and election law attorney, usually defending Republican interests but whose 2018 federal judgeship nomination got scuttled when two GOP senators opposed his confirmation, has died, a legal colleague said Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

RALEIGH — Thomas Farr, a longtime North Carolina redistricting and election law attorney who regularly defended Republican interests but whose 2018 federal judgeship nomination was scuttled by two GOP senators, has died, a legal colleague said Tuesday. He was 69.

Farr died on Monday following a series of heart problems, according to Phil Strach, a fellow election law attorney who said he had spoken to Farr’s family about his death. Strach declined to say where Farr died.

“He should be remembered as what I would describe as a legal titan, certainly in North Carolina and, in many respects, nationwide,” Strach said. “You don’t get nominated a federal judge without … a record of legal accomplishments.”

Newly elected NCGOP Chairman Jason Simmons issued condolences to the family in a post on X.

“The North Carolina Republican Party extends condolences to the family of Thomas Farr,” wrote Simmons. “His accomplishments, along with a distinguished legal career, which contributed to many of the laws and policies that our state and nation benefit from today.

“The Republican Party and the conservative cause are better for the countless hours he gave in their service. Most importantly, he will be remembered as a loving husband and father. We join with those who mourn his loss.”

Farr, an Ohio native who attended law schools at Emory University and Georgetown University, arrived in North Carolina in the 1980s, according to Strach.

Although a specialist in employment law, Farr became known for his work in redistricting litigation. He participated in oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1990s for a court case in which voters argued successfully that an unconventional majority-black congressional district drawn by North Carolina Democrats violated the Voting Rights Act.

Farr participated in voting and redistricting cases into the 2000s and then the 2010s, when Republicans took over the state legislature and their laws and redistricting lines were being challenged. Farr was formally nominated to a U.S. District Court judgeship in eastern North Carolina four times — two each by President George W. Bush and President Donald Trump — but was never confirmed.

During his final nomination, civil rights groups and Democrats criticized Farr for defending North Carolina voting and redistricting laws that judges had declared racially discriminatory. That included a 2013 law whose provisions requiring photo identification to vote and reducing the number of early voting days were struck down.

The critics also focused on Farr’s time serving as a lawyer for the reelection campaign of Republican Sen. Jesse Helms in 1990. The U.S. Justice Department alleged that postcards sent by the campaign mostly to Black voters were intended to intimidate them from voting.

Farr told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that he wasn’t consulted about the postcards, did not have any role in drafting or sending them and was appalled by the language on them.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott sealed Farr’s confirmation failure by announcing in November 2018 that he wouldn’t vote for him, joining GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and 49 Democratic lawmakers. Scott, the lone Black Republican in the chamber, said he decided to vote against Farr after a 1991 Justice Department memo on the postcard matter “shed new light on Mr. Farr’s activities.”

Strach, who worked with Farr for 25 years, most recently as a fellow law partner at the Nelson Mullins firm, called Farr’s defeat the result of politics that blew allegations out of proportion. Farr was “confused and perplexed by the negative blowback” that he received, given that he believed his redistricting work in the 1990s plowed new ground to protect Black voting rights, Strach said. Strach called Farr a compassionate person who helped the next generation of lawyers.

Farr’s “contributions to the legal field, his tireless advocacy for justice, and his commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the founding principles of our country will continue to inspire those who knew him for many years to come,” North Carolina Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said in a news release.

A.P. Dillon contributed to this report.