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Senate schedules vote on long-delayed Pa. nominee Restrepo

WASHINGTON -- Republican Senate leaders have scheduled a Jan. 11 confirmation vote for Luis Felipe Restrepo, a long-stalled Philadelphia judge whose nomination has become a flash point in a national battle over the federal bench.

The vote on Restrepo -- an Eastern District of Pennsylvania judge nominated more than a year ago to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals -- comes after months of Democratic criticism accusing Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), of stalling as part of an effort to slow-walk President Obama's nominees as he nears the end of his term.

Restrepo has become a symbol of the fight – he was featured in a New York Times editorial on the issue -- and top Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), have  taken to the Senate floor to chide Toomey, a key Democratic target in next year's elections.

Toomey, who has touted his bipartisan work with Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) on advancing Pennsylvania judges, has publicly lauded Restrepo, and wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) Monday urging a prompt vote on the judge, who was nominated on Nov. 12, 2014.

"If he is confirmed, this achievement would further build on an exceptionally strong record of accomplishment that Sen. Casey and I have for securing federal judges for Pennsylvania," Toomey said in a statement Wednesday night.

Restrepo would fill an emergency vacancy on a court that hears appeals from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Democrats, liberal groups and Hispanic advocates ratcheted up the attacks on Toomey in recent weeks, particularly in November, when the nomination passed the one-year mark, and again Monday, when Republicans skipped over Restrepo and confirmed a Tennessee judge who had been nominated a week later. Toomey's letter to McConnell arrived hours before that vote.

Democrats say that while publicly hailing Restrepo, Toomey quietly added to the roadblocks, and they accuse him of not pushing GOP leaders hard enough for final confirmation. Toomey has denied slowing the nominee, and his office has said the senator spoke with McConnell several times about the issue in recent months.

Restrepo's qualifications "have never been in doubt" said John Neurohr, co-chair of the Pennsylvania chapter of the liberal-leaning Why Courts Matter, a group that closely watches the judiciary.

"Unfortunately, the politically motivated delays that have hampered his nomination for over a year continue, as the vote, which could have easily been scheduled for this week or next before the Senate goes on recess, has been scheduled for over a month from now," Neurohr said.

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