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Republican Senate accused of 'slow walking' Obama's judicial nominees

Mary Barzee Flores, a former public defender and state court judge in Miami, was nominated for a federal judgeship by President Obama in February on the recommendation of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

But since then, Rubio, in consultation with Sen. Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), has blocked Flores from even receiving a hearing in the Judiciary Committee pending “a full review” of her record.

Luis Felipe Restrepo, a former U.S. magistrate and currently U.S. District Court judge in Pennsylvania, was nominated for a powerful circuit court judgeship in Philadelphia in November with the strong endorsement of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of his home state, who said Restrepo would “make a superb addition” to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

But then Toomey blocked progress on Restrepo’s nomination for seven months, and the former civil rights lawyer and native of Colombia is still awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

Democrats are becoming increasingly furious at what they say is a Republican strategy of “slow walking” Obama’s judicial nominations in the hopes that they will be filled by a Republican president after the 2016 elections.

They say the six federal judges approved by Republicans since they took over the Senate in January is a record of underachievement not matched since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president in 1953.

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“These Republican senators are saying glowing things about these nominees, and then they just defer to the strategy of the party leadership, which is to confirm as few of the president’s nominees as possible and keep as many vacancies as possible for a future Republican president,” said Kyle C. Barry, director of justice programs at the liberal Alliance for Justice.

Because “Republican leaders have virtually shut down the confirmation process, we are headed to a judicial vacancy crisis,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the leading Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

There are 11 nominees to lifetime judgeships who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee now awaiting a vote on the Senate floor. Twenty-one more Obama nominees, including Flores, have not had committee hearings.

Thirty-eight judicial vacancies are yet to be filled, most of them because Republican senators in their home states — who are accorded a veto by Senate custom — have refused to approve any candidates for the job. There are vacancies that have remained open for four, five, and even nine years, all in states with at least one Republican senator.

Grassley, a normally mild-mannered farmer, has fought back against the Democratic charges, responding with his own statistics and telling Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor “to put that in your mouth and smoke it.”

Whereas the Democrats are focusing on the low number of nominees confirmed by the full Senate this year, Grassley focused on action in the committee. He said the number of judicial nominees granted hearings in his committee this year is roughly the same as those conducted by the Democrats in the seventh year of George W. Bush’s presidency.

What’s more, Grassley said, the number of nominees approved by the full Senate would have been much higher if Democrats had not “rammed through” 11 judges in the waning days of their control last year.

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“The Senate is finally back to work after years of stagnation under Democratic leadership,” Grassley said. “Rather than complaining about a problem that doesn’t exist, let’s focus on solving issues facing hard-working Americans.”

But Barry, of Alliance for Justice, said the most telling statistic is that since the Republicans took over the Senate in January, the number of vacant seats in the federal judiciary has increased from 43 to 67.

“This Republican majority is ignoring its constitutional duty to confirm judges,” Barry said.

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