WASHINGTON - Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote on Wednesday to advance Thomas Farr’s nomination to a district judge post in North Carolina.
The vote - mostly cast along party lines - sparked controversy due to some of Farr’s previous decisions, which has added a racially charged component in an already tough nomination.
A final Senate vote on Farr’s nomination is scheduled to take place on Thursday.
All 49 Democrats voted against moving forward. They were joined by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who had pledged to vote against any of the president’s judicial nominees until a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller was voted on by the full Senate.
The Senate on Wednesday again blocked an expedited vote on legislation that would protect Mueller from being fired. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah objected to the request, blocking immediate action. Lee said the bill was unconstitutional.
Even without the Mueller controversy, Farr was facing controversy over his history as a lawyer.
Democrats say that Farr, as an attorney hired by the state, defended racially gerrymandered congressional boundaries as well as a law that required photo identification to vote. The courts ruled against both measures.
“Mr. Farr was chief cook and bottle washer for the state that probably did more to prevent people, particularly African-Americans from voting, than any other state,” said Senator Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
The history of the particular judicial opening Farr would fill has also contributed to the acrimony.
President Barack Obama nominated two African-American women to serve on the court, but neither was granted a hearing after Republican senators objected, and their nominations stalled. If confirmed, they would have been the first black judges to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.