09.16.15

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

Last week, I spoke about Senate Republicans’ virtual shutdown of the judicial nominations process since they took over the majority.  Their refusal to respond to the urgent needs of our independent Third Branch is threatening to harm our justice system and rob the judiciary of outstanding public servants.

One glaring example of this harm is the unnecessary delay of Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, who was nominated last year to 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.  During his tenure as both a Federal district court judge and as a Federal magistrate judge, he has presided over 56 trials that have gone to verdict or judgment.  He is superbly qualified, and I have heard no objection to his nomination.  Despite his outstanding credentials and experience, it took the Republican majority seven months just to schedule a hearing in the Judiciary Committee for this qualified nominee.

Judge Restrepo has bipartisan support from both 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.  At his confirmation 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.”  Senator Toomey described Judge Restrepo’s life story as “an American Dream” and recounted how Judge Restrepo came to the United States from Columbia and rose to the top of his profession by “virtue of his hard work, his intellect, his integrity.”  I could not agree more.

Given his remarkable credentials, wealth of experience, and strong bipartisan support, you would think the Senate would have confirmed Judge Restrepo months ago.  Instead, he was nominated for a judicial emergency vacancy back in November 2014, and for 10 months since his nomination, he has been denied a vote on his confirmation.  No Senate Democrat opposes a vote on his nomination.  The only ones who are holding up his nomination are the Senate Republicans.  I have heard Senator Toomey indicate his strong support and that he would like to see Judge Restrepo receive a vote.  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 to schedule a confirmation vote this week.

In addition to Judge Restrepo’s nomination, there are 12 other non-controversial judicial nominees pending on the Executive Calendar waiting for a vote.  All of them were approved by voice vote by the Judiciary Committee.  There is no reason for Republicans to block these nominees.  More than eight months into this new year, Republican leadership has allowed votes on just six judicial nominees.  By this time in 2007, when I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we had confirmed 29 judges nominated by President Bush.  That is nearly five times more nominees than what this Republican Majority has accomplished so far this year.  Because of the Republicans’ virtual shutdown of the confirmation process, judicial vacancies have increased by more than 50 percent – from 43 to 67.  This is demonstrates an astounding neglect of the needs of our independent Third Branch.

Instead of confirming Judge Restrepo and the 12 other non-controversial judicial nominees on the Executive Calendar, Republicans are talking about another doomed vote on harmful legislation to block women’s health care choices.  Republicans had already forced a failed “show vote” to defund critical health services for women, spending two days on that unnecessary political exercise.  Although Senate Republicans campaigned last year on the promise that they would govern responsibly if they won the majority, they continue to prioritize divisive issues that play only to their political base and yield no results for the American people.

I am urging Republican leadership to reverse course.  Confirm Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo without further delay.  And then confirm the other 12 non-controversial judicial nominees pending on our Executive Calendar. 

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