Confirmation vote on Pennsylvania jurist awaits 'blue slip' from Toomey
May 7, 2015 12:19 AM
Senator Pat Toomey
By Tracie Mauriello/Post-Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday grilled four nominees for federal judgeships, but one Pennsylvania jurist isn’t on the confirmation agenda even though he appears to have wide support.
Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District, was nominated six months ago to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, but his confirmation hearing is being held up, and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. is at the center of the delay.
Mr. Toomey said he strongly supports Judge Restrepo, but he hasn’t formally endorsed by officially signing off on the nomination. On judicial confirmations, the Senate traditionally defers to home-state senators whose signatures on blue slips of paper allow confirmation hearings to move forward.
Some suggest that Republicans are blocking nominations in retaliation for President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration or for action by Senate Democratic leaders who pushed through 11 judicial nominees in December just before Republicans took control of the chamber.
Mr. Toomey insists his support for Judge Restrepo hasn’t changed since he and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., first put his name forward for the president’s consideration. He reiterated that support this week but dodged questions about why he hasn’t submitted his blue slip. Instead, he said he was in a rush and disappeared into a senators-only elevator in the Capitol on his way to a caucus luncheon.
In a written statement later, his spokeswoman E.R. Anderson said only that her boss supports Judge Restrepo and is confident he will be confirmed by year’s end.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee’s vetting of judicial nominations is intended to be a confidential process, and Sen. Toomey will respect this process and refrain from further comment while it is still pending,” she said.
That leaves progressives with questions.
“It makes me wonder. He says he supports [Judge Restrepo], but what’s a statement of support worth when half a year has gone by and he’s preventing the Judiciary Committee from holding a hearing,” said Paul Gordon, senior legislative counsel for D.C.-based People for the American Way.
On the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it’s unjust to delay Mr. Restrepo’s confirmation when there is a backlog of cases building up in the court system.
“It appears that Republicans are heeding calls to the far right to retaliate against the president over immigration by blocking circuit judges. They couldn’t block [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch’s confirmation, so now they want to block the president’s appeals court judges,” Mr. Reid said. “Our courts should be above political gamesmanship. Qualified judicial nominees like Mr. Restrepo deserve their vote in the Senate.”
Republicans, though, say Democrats are making hay out of nothing because they want to make Mr. Toomey look bad ahead of his re-election campaign next year. And they say that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is holding hearings at the same rate as his Democratic predecessor, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, did during the last two years of President George W. Bush’s term.
It isn’t unusual for a senator to hold on to blue slips until the committee has finished vetting a nominee, said Beth Levine, spokeswoman for Mr. Grassley.
Very often, she said, senators wait until background investigations are finished in case concerns are found during that process.
Waiting “can turn out to be an appropriate action because there are sometimes follow-up questions that need to be resolved,” Ms. Levine said.
The investigation is in progress, she said.
Mr. Gordon and others say it shouldn’t take long because the committee already investigated Mr. Restrepo just two years ago when he was nominated for the district court. More recently, the senators and White House vetted him for the current nomination.
“It doesn’t make any sense not to have a hearing now on a noncontroversial nomination,” said Christine Stone, co-chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Constitutional Values, a progressive group that weighs in on federal court matters.
Meanwhile, Iowa progressives are pressuring their senator to move forward with the Restrepo hearing.
“When he took over the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Grassley led us all to believe he would not play politics with our courts. Unfortunately, the senator has let down Iowans and Americans by blocking a number of judicial appointments,” said Sue Dinsdale, executive director of Iowa Citizens Action Network, in a written statement. “We can’t afford to wait any longer while Sen. Grassley delays, delays, delays.”
Before his District Court confirmation, Judge Restrepo served as a magistrate for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He also worked as a federal public defender in the Eastern District and has 13 years’ experience in private practice.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.
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