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Pence breaks tie to advance judge with questionable past on race issues closer to confirmation



WASHINGTON (AP) — One of President Donald Trump's nominees has cleared an important hurdle to filling the nation's longest judicial vacancy, but it took a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.

Democratic lawmakers, urged on by the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus, have been fighting Thomas Farr's confirmation to serve as a district court judge in North Carolina. The seat Farr would fill has been vacant since 2005.

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.

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.

"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.

Republicans backed Farr and used their majority to limit debate on his nomination. 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 c counsel Robert Mueller was voted on by the full Senate.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., was the last lawmaker to cast his vote, making the tally 50-50 and giving Pence the opportunity to break the tie.

The Senate was expected to hold a final vote Thursday on Farr's confirmation.

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