In the long-running judicial wars between the Senate and the White House, the first skirmish of the year is flaring into the open this week.
How it plays out will offer insight about whether the new Republican majority plans to continue making the federal bench a venue for venting displeasure with President Barack Obama, or whether he’ll be allowed to refashion the courts a bit more during his final two years in office. The locus of the new fight is L. Felipe Restrepo, chosen by the president six months ago for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He’s the only person Obama has picked for eight current vacancies on the regional appeals courts. The seat has been open for 18 months, and as a result, the caseload recently became so backlogged that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts declared a “judicial emergency” for appeals out of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
But the Senate Judiciary Committee is convening its third hearing of the year Wednesday afternoon to hear from judicial nominees, and Restrepo is not invited. His supporters say efforts to spur his progress behind the scenes have been frustrated at every turn.
“This is just slow-walking a totally qualified nominee,” said Kyle C. Barry of the Alliance for Justice, which advocates for a more liberal judiciary. “There’s no substantive reason, and it’s unconscionable.”