The Senate, after a 426-day delay, on Monday confirmed Luis Felipe Restrepo as the first Hispanic federal judge from Pennsylvania on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.
The 82-6 vote on the federal judge is a milestone in that it wraps up work on the Senate's backlog on President Obama's nominees to the appeals courts and ends a long delay for Restrepo. The Pennsylvania judge was caught up in the partisan debate over whether the Senate was dragging its heels on Obama's judicial nominees.
Restrepo, 55, was born in Colombia and came to the U.S. when he was 2. His nomination to serve as a district judge was non-controversial and the Senate approved it in 2013.
But when Obama tapped him for a promotion to the appeals court, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., blocked the nomination despite publicly stating that he supported Restrepo's elevation.
There are still nine appeals court vacancies, but Obama has yet to nominate judges for those posts.
Liberal groups have criticized Republicans' "needless delays," blaming Toomey, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
"… Senate Republicans should be embarrassed about how they've played politics with the courts for months on end," said People for the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker. "Judge Restrepo was nominated with bipartisan support from his home state senators, but at every turn Republicans delayed and dragged their feet, saying one thing and doing another."
"Not a single senator raised any concerns about Judge Restrepo's fitness for the bench — this was anti-Obama politics plain and simple," Baker continued. "If Americans need another example of who's causing gridlock in Washington, the expanse of time that it took us to get to this vote is a perfect example."
Grassley defended his record, dismissing liberal arguments that Republicans are engaged in historic obstruction on the president's judicial nominations.
Restrepo is the 319th judicial nominee confirmed during Obama's presidency, Grassley said. By comparison, at this time in 2008, the beginning of President Bush's last year in office, the Senate had confirmed only 297 judicial nominees.
"That's 22 more nominees for President Obama," Grassley said Monday evening.
"I've heard a lot of complaining about the pace of judicial nominations this Congress, but I believe actions speak louder than words," he continued. "And the Senate's actions have had concrete results."
Last year, he said the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings for 35 nominees, exactly what the committee did in 2007, when it also held hearings for a total of 35 nominees.
Grassley also denied liberal claims that there is a judicial "crisis," noting that 2015 had the lowest average vacancy rate during Obama's presidency, and was among the lowest in the last 25 years. Currently, both the district and circuit courts are more than 91 percent filled, he said.