A picture of Senator Patrick J. Leahy
Patrick L.
Democrat VT

About Sen. Patrick
  • Executive Session

    by Senator Patrick J. Leahy

    Posted on 2016-01-11

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    LEAHY. Mr. President, I thank the distinguished Senator from Ohio.

    We are finally going to 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. He was nominated way over a year ago--nearly 14 months ago--with strong bipartisan support from home State Senators. This is a case where, unfortunately, the Republican leadership has subjected Judge Restrepo to totally unnecessary delay as part of their 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 votes on only 11 judicial nominations. This matched the record for confirming the fewest number of judicial nominees in more than half a century. I mention that because Democrats took the majority in the last 2 years of President Bush's term. We confirmed 40 judges during that year-- [[Page S20]] 40. I was chairman. I remember that very well. I didn't want to repeat the things that we saw during the Clinton administration, where the Republicans came in and the then-Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee killed over 60 nominees of the Clinton administration by not allowing them to have a vote in committee. I said: Let's move faster. I moved 40 through. Did the Republicans do the same? No, they allowed 11.

    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 kind of consensus nominee that should have been easily confirmed at the end of the session. 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. I cannot believe this man who will be the first Hispanic judge from Pennsylvania for the third circuit was humiliated by having to wait 14 months. This highly qualified Hispanic judge was told to go to the back of the line and wait 14 months. It is wrong. It is absolutely wrong.

    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 have printed in the Record a copy of the Hispanic National Bar Association's letter in support of Judge Restrepo 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.

    Let's start facing up to fact that we have enormous problems with judiciary emergencies in States where both Republicans and Democrats have supported the nominees. Let them come forward. Let them be voted on. Let's stop making the Federal courts a political pawn. It is bad enough with all the political shenanigans going on in this country anyway in an election year. Don't do them with the Federal court system. We have the best, the most honest, the least partisan Federal court system anywhere in the world. But don't say: Oh, you are a highly qualified Hispanic nominee, but you just wait there for 14 months, be humiliated, and then we will finally allow a vote. I don't care whether someone is Hispanic or non-Hispanic; we have so many men and women who are highly qualified.

    In addition to the 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.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: March 31, 2015.

    Re Hispanic National Bar Association Endorsement of Nomination of The Honorable Luis Felipe Restrepo to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

    Hon. Chuck Grassley, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.

    Hon. Patrick Leahy, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.

    Dear Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Leahy: On behalf of the Hispanic National Bar Association (``HNBA''), we write to recommend the confirmation of the Honorable Luis Felipe Restrepo to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. As explained below, we believe that Judge Restrepo has all the requisite qualifications to serve in this role and will serve the Court and the parties that come before it with distinction and integrity.

    The HNBA is a non-profit, non-partisan national membership association that represents the interests of Hispanic attorneys, judges, law professors, law students, and legal professionals in the United States and Puerto Rico. One of the HNBA's many institutional objectives is to advocate and work to ensure that the federal and state courts in our nation are diverse and reflect the citizenry that come before our courts daily.

    Judge Restrepo sought the HNBA's endorsement shortly after President Obama nominated him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The HNBA conducted a thorough due diligence process that included interviews of personal and professional references (including judges and attorneys), a review of his scholarly writings and legal opinions, and a thorough Internet search. We also have considered his background and qualifications in the context of the requirements of the position for which he was nominated, as well as the requirements of the HNBA's Policies and Procedures Governing Judicial Endorsements. After a careful review, it is clear that Judge Restrepo possesses the professional expertise, experience, personal integrity and judicial temperament to distinguish himself as a federal appellate judge. Accordingly, we urge you to confirm his nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

    Prior to being sworn in as a District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 2013 and his appointment as a Magistrate Judge in 2006, Judge Restrepo was a highly- regarded Philadelphia attorney and founding member of the firm of Krasner & Restrepo, concentrating on criminal defense and civil rights litigation. Before forming his law firm, he served as an assistant federal defender with the Community Federal Defender for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and an assistant defender for the Defender Association of Philadelphia. He is an adjunct professor at Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law, was an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1997-2009 where he was appointed the Irving R. Segal Lecturer in advocacy, and has taught with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy in regional and national programs since 1991. He [[Page S21]] has been a lecturer at seminars sponsored by a number of agencies and organizations and has written numerous articles appearing in a variety of national publications. Throughout his career, Judge Restrepo has stood out as an exceptional role model for community involvement and civic participation. He has devoted his time and expertise to a variety of boards and commissions as well as the Eastern District prisoner reentry program.

    The HNBA's due diligence process has confirmed that Judge Restrepo's integrity, knowledge of the law, breadth of professional experience, and intellectual capacity make him well suited to sit as a federal appellate judge. Accordingly, it is with great pride that we have the privilege of endorsing the Honorable Luis Felipe Restrepo and recommend his confirmation to serve as a Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Please do not hesitate to contact us at the HNBA National Office at (202) 223-4777, or you may contact Cynthia D. Mares directly at (720) 314-1295 or by e-mail at president@hnba.com, if we can be of any further assistance.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Sincerely, Cynthia D. Mares, HNBA National President.

    Robert Raben, Chair, HNBA Judiciary Committee.

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