NYT Editorial: Senate Republicans Are Undermining The Justice System

WASHINGTON (Friday, November 13, 2015) –Senate Republicans are on pace to confirm the fewest number of judges in more than a half century.  The Republicans’ poor record has led to increased vacancies in courts throughout the country, and a backlog of judicial nominees pending on the floor.  In an editorial Friday, the New York Times noted this obstruction “undermine(s) the justice system, and the biggest victims are ordinary Americans who cannot count on fully functioning courts.”

Among the nominees pending on the executive calendar is Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, who was nominated exactly one year ago to fill an emergency vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Pennsylvania.  Restrepo was unanimously confirmed two years ago by the Senate to serve as a district court judge, and his nomination to the circuit court has the support of both Pennsylvania Senators.  Yet despite that backing, Republicans have yet to schedule a vote on Restrepo and his confirmation before the end of the year may be in jeopardy. 

Earlier this week, Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged Republicans to quickly schedule a confirmation vote on Restrepo and all pending judicial nominees before the end of the year. 

“Although there is an urgent need to fill the emergency vacancy on the Third Circuit, the Republican leadership has refused to hold a confirmation vote,” Leahy said.  “All Democrats support this nominee.  I hope Senator Toomey will seek a firm commitment from his Republican leadership to schedule a vote this week for Judge Restrepo.”

The Senate will vote Monday on the confirmation of LaShann Hall, an African American woman who also was nominated exactly one year ago to fill an emergency vacancy on the Eastern District of New York.  This will be the Senate’s first vote on a judicial nominee in three weeks.  Currently there are 21 judicial nominees pending, including 10 to fill emergency vacancies.

Read the full New York Times editorial online and below.

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Confirm President Obama’s Judges

On Nov. 12, 2014, President Obama nominated Luis Felipe Restrepo to a judgeship on the federal Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Judge Restrepo, who already sits on the United States District Court in Philadelphia, seemed to secure the support of both Pennsylvania senators — Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican.

But that does not mean that Judge Restrepo, whom Mr. Toomey called “a very well-qualified candidate” who would “make a superb addition” to the appeals court, will actually get through the confirmation roadblock led by Senate Republicans. Mr. Toomey, despite his professed support, is responsible for a big part of it, refusing for six months to sign off on the nomination by exploiting a pointless tradition that allows home-state senators to block a nomination with no explanation needed. He claimed that he was waiting for a background check, even though Judge Restrepo passed a check two years ago for his current job. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Judge Restrepo for the appeals court seat in July. There has been no explanation for the holdup since then.

As a Hispanic and a former public defender, Judge Restrepo would bring a needed measure of ethnic and professional diversity to the court. But he is just one of many judicial nominees awaiting action. Thirteen have not received a hearing by the Judiciary Committee, and 16 others, including Judge Restrepo, have been approved by the committee, all unanimously, but are still waiting for a full vote on the Senate floor.

Since Republicans took over in January, the Senate has confirmed only nine of President Obama’s nominees, the slowest pace in more than half a century. Meanwhile, the seat Judge Restrepo would fill is one of 30 long-vacant federal judgeships the court system deems “judicial emergencies,” meaning they have a backlog of hundreds of cases.

Republicans say that Mr. Obama has seen more of his judicial nominees confirmed than President George W. Bush had by this time in his tenure in 2007. But that is mainly because Senate Democrats in 2013 stopped Republicans from repeatedly using the filibuster to block qualified nominees. After that, the Democratic-led Senate confirmed 96 of Mr. Obama’s picks. The more relevant fact is there are 67 judicial vacancies today, far more than the number of vacancies Mr. Bush faced in 2007.

The larger problem here, of course, is that Republicans are blocking votes on highly qualified and noncontroversial nominees to vent their anger with the president, who infuriated them with his now-stalled immigration action, among other things.

Judges are not the only casualties of this interbranch crossfire. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, another unquestionably qualified candidate, waited almost six months before finally getting a vote.

Senate Democrats should make these inexcusable delays a national issue. Mr. Obama, meanwhile, could start selecting judges himself in states like Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin and Indiana, where senators refuse to give him any names at all.

With each day that passes without a vote on Judge Restrepo and other nominees, Republicans undermine the justice system, and the biggest victims are ordinary Americans who cannot count on fully functioning courts.

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