Thursday, April 30, 2015

Long Past Time to Let 3rd Circuit Nominee and Pennsylvanian Restrepo Have His Hearing

By Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People for the American Way

This post originally appeared on the People for the American Way blog:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley yesterday announced there will be a judicial nominations hearing next Wednesday, the first one since March 11. He let eight weeks go by without allowing any of President Obama's judicial nominees to testify to the committee. It isn't like there haven't been plenty of nominees who have long been ready for this. Most of those nominated as far back as last November have yet to make it even that far.

As we have written before, Eastern Pennsylvania federal judge L. Felipe Restrepo is among those nominees being obstructed. Confirmed to his current position by the Senate by unanimous voice vote in June of 2013, he earned strong statements of support from home state senators Bob Casey (a Democrat) and Pat Toomey (a Republican) when he was nominated for elevation to the Third Circuit last November.

But since then ... nothing. Chairman Grassley has conspicuously refused to schedule a hearing for him. Although Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell announced in late January that she plans to take senior status this summer, thus opening a second vacancy on the court if Restrepo is not confirmed by then, Grassley did not schedule a hearing. And when the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts formally classified the vacancy Restrepo would fill as a judicial emergency in February, Grassley's response was ... nothing.

Pennsylvanians who care about their state's federal courts have been asking where their senators have been all this time, especially Toomey. As a fellow Republican, Toomey surely has Grassley's ear on matters of importance to folks in the Keystone State.

The fact that this nomination has gone for nearly half a year without a hearing says volumes about both Grassley and Toomey. As for saying things about Restrepo, he can best speak for himself, and surely would be pleased to do so, if only Grassley would let him.

** UPDATE from Keystone Progress **

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) made the following statement today on the situation:

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Executive Business Meeting
April 30, 2015

Today we are considering a bill introduced by Senator Franken, and cosponsored by eleven other members of this Committee, including myself.  I am proud to support S.993, the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act which will reauthorize and improve the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act.  I was a cosponsor of this legislation when it was first introduced in 2004.  Senator Franken knows well the importance of addressing mental illness, and continuing the work of another great Minnesotan, the late Senator Paul Wellstone.  Senator Wellstone left a true legacy, ensuring that mental illness and addiction are treated just like any other physical illnesses by most insurance companies.  

This treatment is especially critical for those involved in the criminal justice system.  This bill reauthorizes that treatment, and aims to improve interactions between the mentally ill and law enforcement by supporting training programs for police and correctional officers.  This is crucial to preventing unnecessary violence in our communities.  I am grateful to Senator Franken for his commitment to this issue, and I look forward to supporting this bill. 

Unfortunately, there are no judicial nominees on today’s agenda.  This is because this Committee has not held a hearing on a judicial nomination in more than seven weeks and we have several well qualified nominees waiting for a hearing.  Five of the pending judicial nominees were nominated over five months ago, including three who will fill judicial emergency vacancies. 

Chairman Grassley noticed a nominations hearing for next week, and I hope it will include Luis Felipe Restrepo, a nominee from Pennsylvania for the Third Circuit.  Judge Restrepo was unanimously confirmed by the Senate two years ago by voice vote to serve on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  By all accounts he has done an outstanding job.  He was nominated to the Third Circuit over five months ago with the support of Senators Casey and Toomey.  In the time his nomination has been pending, the judgeship he will fill has become a “judicial emergency vacancy.”  I hope this judicial emergency vacancy will be considered soon.

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