08.05.15

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

We began this year with a new Republican majority in the Senate promising to govern responsibly.  Unfortunately, this promise has so far proven hollow.  Beginning with the shameful treatment of the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General, the Republican leadership has used excuse after excuse to keep the Senate from voting on those nominated to serve in our justice system. 

It took four months for the Republican majority to schedule a vote on a single judicial nomination. So far this year, the Republican-controlled Senate has allowed confirmation votes on just five judicial nominees.  The slow trickle of confirmations is a dereliction of the Senate’s constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on judicial nominees.  Since the beginning of this year, the number of Federal court vacancies deemed to be “judicial emergencies” by the non-partisan Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has increased by 158 percent.  There are now 31 judicial emergency vacancies that are affecting communities across the country.  Many are concerned that this obstruction threatens the functioning of our independent judiciary, as Juan Williams recently pointed out.  I ask unanimous consent that his column in The Hill titled “The GOP’s judicial log jam” be included in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks. 

There is a different way to lead.  Similar to the balance of power today, in the last two years of the George W. Bush administration the Democrats were in control of the Senate.  And by this time in 2007, when I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we had confirmed 26 judges.  In contrast, this Congress, the Republican majority has confirmed just 5 judicial nominees appointed by President Obama.  That is more than five times more judges confirmed under a Democratic majority with a President of the opposite party than today’s Senate Republican majority. 

The delay and obstruction is occurring even though all 14 of the current judicial nominees pending on the Executive Calendar have bipartisan support and were voted out of the Judiciary Committee by voice vote. 

These nominees are highly qualified and deserve better treatment from Senate Republicans.  Of great concern is the treatment of Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo who will fill an emergency vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Pennsylvania.  Judge Restrepo was unanimously confirmed two years ago by the Senate to serve as a district court judge.  I have heard no objection to his nomination, yet it took seven months just to get him a hearing in the Judiciary Committee.

He has strong bipartisan support from the two Pennsylvania Senators, and was voted out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously by voice vote.  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.  He has the strong endorsement of the non-partisan Hispanic National Bar Association (“HNBA”).  At his hearing in June, 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 Judge Restrepo to the White House.  Senator Toomey then described Judge Restrepo’s life story as “an American Dream story” recounting how Judge Restrepo, born in Medellín, Colombia, came to the United States, became a U.S. citizen, and rose to the very top of his profession by “virtue of his hard work, his intellect, his integrity.” 

Given his remarkable credentials, recent Senate confirmation, and strong bipartisan support, you would think this chamber would have confirmed Judge Restrepo months ago.  No Senate Democrat opposes a vote on his nomination.  Senate Republicans are the only thing holding up his nomination.  I know Senator Toomey can be a fierce advocate for issues he cares passionately about, and I hope he will get a firm commitment from the Majority Leader on a date for a vote on his confirmation.  The continued delay on such a qualified judicial nominee is a poor reflection on this body.  I ask unanimous consent that a recent column by Carl Tobias in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review titled “Confirm Judge Restrepo” also be included in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks. 

Another eminently qualified nominee who is also strongly supported by the HNBA is Armando Bonilla.  Mr. Bonilla has been nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and would be the first Hispanic judge to hold a seat on that Court.  Mr. Bonilla has spent his entire career – now spanning over two decades – as an attorney for the Department of Justice.  He was hired out of law school in the Department’s prestigious Honors Program, and has risen to become the Associate Deputy Attorney General in the Department.  Despite these outstanding credentials, the junior Senator from Arkansas objected to a request to vote on his nomination, along with any of the four other nominations to the Court of Federal Claims.  These CFC nominees have been waiting for more than 10 months for a vote, and were twice voted out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously by voice vote. 

Those who serve in this body understand that no one Senator can stop a judicial nominee from being confirmed.  One Senator can stop a unanimous consent agreement, but not a vote.  The delay and obstruction of the 14 judicial nominees pending on the Executive Calendar, including Judge Restrepo and Mr. Bonilla, is at the hands of the Republican Leadership and in the hands of the other Republican Senators, who have allowed their leadership to delay these accomplished jurists and prosecutors, even when it hurts their own constituents.

Republican Leadership can still reverse course and lead responsibly.  Although they have only allowed 5 judicial nominees to be confirmed this year, they can make immediate progress by moving to confirm the 14 nominees pending on the Executive Calendar.  They should schedule a vote for outstanding nominees like Judge Restrepo and Mr. Bonilla.  They should schedule a vote for the pending judicial nominees from Missouri, California, New York, and Tennessee.

In the last two years of President Bush’s tenure, the Democratic majority moved 68 district and circuit judges through the process to confirmation.  In the last two years of the President Reagan’s tenure a Democratic majority confirmed 85 judges.  Let us go back to treating the Federal judiciary like the co-equal branch that it is and hold confirmation votes on the nominees before us.  There is no reason for the double standard based on who is in the majority.  We made it clear we would not do that with President Reagan and President Bush.  We should uphold the same standard for President Obama. 

I hope that we return to the regular order that existed for the nominees of past administrations and clear the Senate Executive Calendar of consensus nominations before the upcoming recess.  The time to act on the 14 consensus judicial nominations pending before the full is Senate is now.

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