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Retired Pittsburgh judge joins Biden in calling for action on stalled Supreme Court nomination

A retired federal judge from Pittsburgh today joined Vice President Joe Biden in an address calling on the U.S. Senate to act on Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Retired Judge Timothy K. Lewis, who served on the Western District of Pennsylvania bench from 1991 to 1992 and on the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 1992 to 1999, was a rare outside guest on the President’s Weekly Radio Address. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first to give periodic radio addresses to the nation, and current addresses, which include video, are are available at whitehouse.gov.

Nominated to the Third Circuit by Republican President George H.W. Bush and confirmed by a Democrat-controlled Senate on the eve of the 1992 presidential election, Judge Lewis said he’s “living proof” that politics need not hamstring the confirmation process or impede a court’s work. He said Chief Judge Garland of the Court of Appeals for District of Columbia, whose nomination by Democratic President Barack Obama has been blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate, “deserves similar consideration ... because that’s what the Constitution requires.”

“The sitting president shall — not may—but shall nominate someone to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, with the advice and consent of the Senate. That includes consulting and voting,” said Judge Lewis, who resigned from the bench in 1999 and returned to private practice.

Judge Lewis said the lack of a ninth member has deadlocked the court, leaving important cases unresolved and contributing to varying bodies of law.

“In the several months since Merrick Garland’s nomination, we’ve already seen how the Senate’s refusal to act is preventing the court from fulfilling its duty of interpreting what the law is and resolving conflicts in lower courts,” he said. “This historic obstruction is leading to greater litigation costs and delays — the burden falling mostly on average Americans rather than corporations with endless resources. Unresolved decisions by the Supreme Court are leading to federal laws that should apply to the whole country being constitutional in some parts but unconstitutional in others. If this continues, our freedom of speech, our freedom to practice our faith, our right to vote, our right to privacy — all could depend on where we happen to live."

Judge Lewis, who grew up in Squirrel Hill, is now of counsel at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, dividing his time between Washington, D.C., and Edgewood. Since leaving the bench, he has been an advocate on staffing and other matters involving the federal judiciary, and he said the White House contacted him about delivering the radio address because of testimony he gave in May at a hearing that Senate Democrats held on Chief Judge Garland, who was nominated to succeed the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Judge Lewis said Mr. Biden, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the body that moves judicial nominations through the chamber, heard about the topic and proposed they tape the address together.

“I’m definitely grateful he decided to do it and that I was asked to do it,” Judge Lewis, 61, said in an interview Saturday.

Chief Judge Garland heads the Court of Appeals for District of Columbia, which Judge Lewis described in the interview as the nation’s second-most-important court. Republican leaders have refused to consider the nomination, saying the next president should nominate Justice Scalia’s successor.

“This paralysis is not right. To hold the Supreme Court hostage is something I refuse to accept,” Judge Lewis said in the interview, adding that he knows Chief Judge Garland and considers him “uniquely qualified.”

In the address, Mr. Biden said all Supreme Court nominees got hearings and votes during his tenure as Judiciary Committee chairman.

“Nobody is suggesting that Senators have to vote 'yes' on a nominee," Mr. Biden said. "Voting 'no' is always an option for any senator. But saying nothing, seeing nothing, reading nothing, hearing nothing, and deciding in advance simply to turn your back is not an option the Constitution leaves open.”