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

Today, we will vote on the nomination of Lawrence Vilardo to be a Federal district judge in the Western District of New York in Buffalo.  He was first nominated in February and his nomination was voted out of the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote over five months ago on May 6.  There is no reason why this highly-qualified nominee should have waited so long for a vote.  Despite having one of the busiest caseloads in the country, with more criminal cases than Washington, D.C., Boston, or Cleveland, there is not a single active Federal judge in that district.  The court has been staying afloat only through the voluntary efforts of two judges on senior status who are hearing cases in their retirement.  It is about time that we confirmed Mr. Vilardo to this vacancy.   

Next week marks the eleventh month that Republicans have been in the majority in the Senate.  During that time, only nine judicial nominees have been confirmed.  When Senate Democrats were in the majority during the last two years of the Bush presidency, we had already confirmed 34 judges by this same time.  The glacial pace at which Republicans are currently confirming judicial nominees is an inexcusable failure to carry out the Senate’s constitutional duty of providing advice and consent.  It also has real and dire consequences for hardworking Americans who seek justice, but instead, encounter lengthy delays in the federal court system due to empty courthouses and overburdened courts.  We can and should take action right now to alleviate this problem by holding confirmation votes on the rest of the 13 judicial nominees pending on the floor.  A number of these pending nominees have the support of their Republican home state Senators, and yet they continue to languish on the calendar without a vote.

If Republican obstruction continues, and if home state Senators cannot persuade the Majority Leader to schedule a vote for their nominees soon, then it is unlikely that even highly qualified nominees with Republican support will be confirmed by the end of the year.  These are nominees that members of the Majority Leader’s own party want confirmed, including those from Tennessee and Pennsylvania.  And last week, we had a hearing for two Iowa nominees, who I expect to be reported out of the Judiciary Committee soon as well.  None of these nominees are likely to be confirmed by the end of the year if Senate Republicans continue at this historically slow pace.

No Senator has raised any objections to the judicial nominees pending on the floor.  Every single one was reported out of the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote.  Each has the backing of their home state Senators, including Republican Senators.  These nominees are outstanding, accomplished legal professionals who are ready to serve in our justice system.  They have devoted time away from work and their families to go through the rigorous nominations process.  More than half of the pending Federal district and circuit court nominees would fill vacancies deemed to be “judicial emergencies” by the non-partisan Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.  Instead of working to ensure that all Americans have access to our Federal courts, Senate Republicans continue to obstruct President Obama’s judicial nominees in a misguided effort to score political points against the president.

The number of empty judgeships has increased by more than 50 percent since Republicans took over the majority.  Their obstruction is reversing the hard-earned progress Senate Democrats made last Congress to drastically reduce the number of judicial vacancies.  Making matters worse, the number of “judicial emergency” vacancies since Senate Republicans took the majority has risen by 158 percent.  These vacancies impact communities across America, and it is doing the most harm to states with at least one Republican Senator.  Of the 66 current vacancies that exist, 49 of them – or more than 70 percent – are in states with at least one Republican Senator.

One of those vacancies is an emergency vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Pennsylvania.  Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo is nominated to fill the vacancy and he has strong bipartisan support from his home state Senators, Senator Toomey and Senator Casey.  At Judge Restrepo’s hearing, Senator Toomey stated that “there is no question [Judge Restrepo] is a very well qualified candidate to serve on the Third Circuit” and underscored the fact that he recommended that the President nominate Judge Restrepo.  Once confirmed, Judge Restrepo will be the first Hispanic judge from Pennsylvania to ever serve on this court and only the second Hispanic judge to serve on the Third Circuit. 

There is absolutely no reason to delay a vote on Judge Restrepo’s confirmation, and yet his nomination has been pending on the floor for over three months.  Since he was first nominated, Judge Restrepo’s nomination has been pending for a staggering 348 days.  The National President for the Hispanic National Bar Association, which strongly supports Judge Restrepo’s nomination, wrote last week in the HuffingtonPost about the inexcusable delay in his confirmation.  I ask unanimous consent to include a copy of this article in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.

Contrast Senate Republican’s treatment of Judge Restrepo with President Bush’s nominee to the Third Circuit, Judge Thomas Hardiman, who was nominated in the last two years of the Bush presidency.  Judge Hardiman was confirmed in nearly half the time Judge Restrepo has been waiting, taking only 183 days from nomination to his confirmation.  Furthermore, it took only 7 days for Judge Hardiman to receive a confirmation vote once he was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Judge Restrepo has been pending on the floor for 109 days – 15 times longer than Judge Hardiman.  I hope the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania will implore his leadership to bring this highly qualified nominee up for a vote without further delay.  Let us then turn to votes on the rest of the 12 pending judicial nominees without further delay.   

Shortly we will begin voting on Lawrence Vilardo to fill a judicial vacancy in the Federal District Court for the Western District of New York.  Since 1986, he has practiced as a named partner at the law firm of Connors & Vilardo, L.L.P. in Buffalo, New York.  He previously practiced at Damon & Morey, in Buffalo, New York from 1981 to 1986.  The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Mr. Vilardo “well qualified” to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, its highest rating.  He has the support of his two home state Senators, Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand.  He was voted out of the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote on May 6, 2015.  I will vote to support his nomination.

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