01.11.16

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Judicial Nominations

Today, we will vote on the long-overdue confirmation of Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo to fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Pennsylvania.  Judge Restrepo was nominated nearly 14 months ago and his nomination has been pending on the floor since last July after the Judiciary Committee voted out his nomination by voice vote.  Judge Restrepo’s nomination has overwhelming support, including the strong bipartisan support of his home state Senators, Senator Casey and Senator Toomey.  The lengthy delay that Republicans subjected Judge Restrepo to was completely unnecessary but it is the result of Republicans’ wholesale obstruction of judicial nominees.  Their actions hurt not only the people of Pennsylvania, but also Americans across the country as judicial vacancies have remained unfilled nationwide after Republicans took over the Senate majority last year.

I hope that today’s vote and the agreement to vote on four district court nominees this work period signals a return to the Senate fulfilling its constitutional duty of providing advice and consent on the President’s nominees.  In all of 2015, Senate Republicans allowed confirmation votes on only 11 judicial nominees.  This matched the record for confirming the fewest number of judicial nominees in more than half a century.  In clear contrast, when Senate Democrats were in the majority during the seventh year of the Bush presidency, we confirmed 40 judges that year – more than triple the number of judges Republicans allowed votes on after gaining the majority last year. 

Republicans also left town at the end of last year with 19 judicial nominees still pending on the floor, including Judge Restrepo.  Each of the nominees has the support of their home state Senators and their nominations were reported out of the Judiciary Committee by voice vote.  These are the kind of noncontroversial judicial nominees that the Senate has traditionally confirmed at the end of a session.  During the Obama administration, however, Republicans have rejected this practice.

Judge Restrepo exemplifies the type of consensus nominee who would have been easily confirmed at the end of a session in any other administration.  He is nominated to fill an emergency vacancy on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which has two vacant judgeships in Pennsylvania.  He has the strong bipartisan support of his home state Senators, Senator Casey and Senator Toomey.  In fact, Senator Toomey has said he personally recommended Judge Restrepo to the President for the nomination.  In 2013, this body confirmed Judge Restrepo’s nomination to the Federal district court by voice vote.  I have heard no objection from any Senator to Judge Restrepo’s nomination.  When Judge Restrepo is confirmed, he will serve as the first Hispanic judge from Pennsylvania on the Third Circuit. 

I will vote to confirm Judge Restrepo.  Since 2013, he has served as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  For the seven years prior, he served as a Federal magistrate judge on the same court.  Before joining the bench, Judge Restrepo was in private practice as a named partner at Krasner & Restrepo.  He began his legal career serving as a public defender as an Assistant Defender for the Defender Association of Philadelphia before becoming an Assistant Federal Defender for the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  He was voted out of the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote on July 9, 2015.  His nomination has the full support of the Hispanic National Bar Association.  I ask unanimous consent to include a copy of the Hispanic National Bar Association’s letter in support of Judge Restrepo into the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.

Republicans’ obstruction of highly qualified judicial nominees with strong support, like Judge Restrepo, has resulted in a sharp rise in judicial vacancies.  When Senate Republicans took over the majority in January of last year, there were 43 judicial vacancies.  After a year of Republicans neglecting judicial confirmations, vacancies have dramatically increased to 72 – an increase of more than 60 percent.  Furthermore, the number of judicial vacancies deemed to be “emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts because caseloads in those courts are unmanageably high has nearly tripled under Republican Senate leadership – from 12 when Republicans took over last year to 33 today.  In his annual year-end report, even Chief Justice Roberts drew our attention to the “crushing dockets” and heavy caseloads that strain the Federal judiciary and prevent Americans from obtaining timely justice in our courts.

The high number of vacancies is entirely of the Senate Republican leadership’s making, and Senate action is required to resolve it.  The first step is to confirm the rest of the 18 judicial nominees pending right now on the floor.  Under a bipartisan agreement reached at the end of last year, the Majority Leader will schedule confirmation votes on four district court nominees between now and the President’s Day recess.  After we vote on those nominees, we will still have nominees from Tennessee, Maryland, New Jersey, Nebraska, New York, and California pending on the floor, nearly all of whom would fill emergency vacancies.  Votes on these nominees must be scheduled without further delay.

In addition to these nominees pending on the floor, there are also four Pennsylvania district court nominees that the Senate Judiciary Committee is poised to report out this month.  I sincerely hope the junior Senator from Pennsylvania can convince the Republican Majority Leader not to submit these additional Pennsylvania nominees to the extensive confirmation delay that Judge Restrepo endured.  The people of Pennsylvania have waited long enough.  I also understand that the White House has been working for months with Senator Toomey and Senator Casey on the second Pennsylvania vacancy on the Third Circuit.  I look forward to the Judiciary Committee considering that nomination soon.

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