WASHINGTON – A Philadelphia jurist’s nomination for a federal appeals court is moving forward now that Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has given his endorsement and the Senate Judiciary Committee has finished vetting Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, who serves on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania bench.
Democrats have been relentlessly pressuring Mr. Toomey to sign off on the the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals nomination, but he held firm. Initially he dodged questions about why he was withholding the blue slip of paper signifying his formal endorsement. However, he later said in a Post-Gazette op-ed piece that he would wait until the Judiciary Committee finished its background investigation.
He insisted that the investigation, not his sign-off, was what was holding up the works.
The investigation was finished Thursday and Mr. Toomey immediately signed off, the senator's office confirmed.
By tradition, the Judiciary Committee does not hold confirmation hearings until home-state senators have signed off. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., did that in November.
Progressives say the investigation never should have taken six months, especially since the Judiciary Committee already vetted Judge Restrepo two years ago when he was nominated for the district judgeship.
“It is literally unbelievable,” said Glenn Sugameli, an attorney who tracks judicial vacancies for the Defenders of Wildlife in Washington. “If somebody was fully vetted two years ago, you don’t start from scratch.”
He said Republicans seem to be holding up nominations as retribution for President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration or to get back at Democrats for pushing through 11 judicial nominees during the December lame duck session just before the GOP took control of the Senate.
Judge Restrepo’s nomination “is just the top of the iceberg. There are other inexcusably delayed vacancies,” Mr. Sugameli said. “It’s pretty clear there is massive slow-walking going on and it’s hurting people” in districts where cases are piling up faster than judges can hear them.
It wasn’t immediately clear when a confirmation hearing will be scheduled. A spokeswoman for Mr. Grassley’s office could not be reached Thursday evening.
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.
The 3rd Circuit hears cases from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.