The Third Circuit Court of Appeals needs another judge.
For the past 675 days, the former seat of Senior Judge Anthony Scirica has sat vacant. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts named the seat a judicial emergency earlier this year because the circuit cannot properly manage its current caseload without another active judge.
The problem should be easy to solve. On November 12, 2014, with the support of Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, President Obama nominated District Court Judge L. Felipe Restrepo to fill the spot. Yet, 176 days later, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has not even held a hearing on Judge Restrepo’s nomination.
Everyone agrees that Judge Restrepo is qualified for the position. He was confirmed as a federal district court judge just two years ago on a voice vote. The American Bar Association rated him “well qualified.” Senator Toomey, a Republican, said the judge would “make a superb addition to the Third Circuit.”
So why the delay? In a radio interview on Tuesday, Senator Grassley said that Judge Restrepo was going through a “thorough vetting process” and that the committee is “doing what we normally do.”
But this delay is anything but normal. At 176 days, Judge Restrepo has already waited nearly three times
as long for his committee hearing as the average wait for Obama’s other circuit court nominees. Kara Farnandez Stoll, who was nominated to a federal appeals court the same day as Judge Restrepo, had a confirmation hearing on March 11 and was voted out of committee on April 23. This disparity is especially telling because Judge Restrepo just went through a rigorous background investigation before he was confirmed to his district court seat in 2013. If anything, having earned the Senate’s approval less than two years ago, Judge Restrepo’s vetting process should take less time, not more.
And it’s not like Judge Restrepo has been waiting behind a long line of nominees. Stoll is the only circuit court nominee who’s had a hearing in 2015, and on March 11 Grassley convened a hearing with only two nominees on the witness list. Judge Restrepo should have had his hearing then, if not before, but Grassley passed him over.
Justice delayed is justice denied. For the people of Pennsylvania and the rest of the Third Circuit, justice has been denied for far too long. It’s time for Senator Grassley to end his political charade and to hold a hearing for Judge Restrepo. The time for a “thorough vetting process” has come and gone, and there is a judicial vacancy that desperately needs to be filled.