The U.S. Senate on Monday confirmed (82-6) Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Restrepo, who was nominated to fill the vacancy by President Obama in November 2014, is the first Latino from Pennsylvania to serve on the Third Circuit Court and just the second circuit court judge confirmed during the 114th Congress.
“Today’s historic confirmation of Judge Luis Restrepo is welcome news, but it’s also emblematic of the unconscionable delays that Senate leadership is forcing highly qualified nominees to endure while the number of judicial vacancies – and judicial emergencies – skyrockets, diminishing the ability of our federal courts to dispense justice,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a statement immediately after the confirmation vote.
The Senate unanimously confirmed Restrepo to a district court seat in 2013, and he was nominated to the appeals court seat with the support of his two home-state senators in Pennsylvania. Despite his stated support, Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator Pat Toomey was complicit in blocking a confirmation hearing for several months. Ultimately, Restrepo waited 426 days to be confirmed.
Restrepo had been the only pending circuit court nominee, but Obama on Tuesday nominated Myra C. Selby and Donald K. Schott to serve on the Seventh Circuit. Zirkin commended Obama’s dedication to filling vacancies on federal courts and slammed the Senate Republican majority for its continued obstruction.
“Blocking judicial nominations may delight right-wing ideologues – like Heritage Action, which is calling for the Senate to stop confirming judges altogether until a new president takes office more than a year from now – but it would seriously damage the judicial system and be an irresponsible abdication of the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to advise and consent on nominees,” Zirkin said in a statement following Obama’s nominations. “It’s time for Senate Republicans to stop playing politics with justice and return to the bipartisan tradition of considering judicial nominations in a timely fashion.”
Since taking control of the Senate last year, Republicans have slow-walked judicial nominees while vacancies have continued to climb higher. The first session of the 114th Congress saw the fewest judicial confirmations – just 11 – since 1960, and only one circuit court judge was confirmed the entire year – the lowest total since none were confirmed in 1953.
“This Congress should get the lowest of low marks for its disdain of the justice system and its obstinate refusal to confirm good judges,” Zirkin said. “We call on the Senate – and particularly Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – to make the normal processing of judicial nominees a priority again so that vacancies can be filled in a timely manner so that people and businesses can have their day in court.”