WASHINGTON - Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) urged Republican leaders Monday to schedule a vote on a long-delayed appellate court nominee from Philadelphia, a move Toomey's critics say is increasingly overdue.
Toomey wrote to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) on Monday morning asking for a final vote on Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo "without delay," pushing for confirmation of a judge nominated more than a year ago to fill an emergency vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit - and who, for Democrats, has become a symbol of GOP obstruction.
"I recognize that some of my colleagues have heartfelt concerns," about confirming Restrepo, Toomey wrote. "That said, I believe Judge Restrepo is an excellent, qualified nominee."
Toomey's letter came hours before the Senate skipped over Restrepo and voted to confirm a Tennessee judge who had been nominated a week later, adding new fuel to the criticism over Restrepo's wait.
Democrats and liberal groups have accused Republicans, and specifically Toomey, of slow-walking Restrepo's nomination as part of a concerted effort to delay President Obama's nominees.
"I hope that the Republican leadership or Sen. Toomey can explain to the people of Pennsylvania why Judge Restrepo is not being confirmed today," said a release from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), the top Democrat on the judiciary committee. "As we approach the end of the year, the Senate Republican majority is coming closer and closer to matching the record for confirming the fewest number of judicial nominees in more than half a century."
He said Restrepo is one of several Hispanic and African American nominees facing long waits.
Shaping the judiciary is one quiet but significant way presidents can leave lasting impacts. Democrats have accused Republicans of stalling Obama picks - a charge the GOP rejected.
Pennsylvania has one of the largest counts of vacant federal judicial seats.
Restrepo's nomination to a court that hears appeals from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the U.S. Virgin Islands has become one of the central flash-points of the dispute.
Earlier this year, Toomey said he was "confident" Restrepo would be confirmed by year's end, but few days remain.
No one has publicly objected to Restrepo. The Senate confirmed him to a seat in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by voice vote in 2013. He cleared the judiciary committee in another voice vote in July.
McConnell is "well aware" of Restrepo's nomination "as Sen. Toomey has been constantly bending the leader's ear on this," wrote his spokesman Don Stewart.
He did not say when a confirmation vote might be scheduled.
Democrats have long complained that Toomey either has not pushed his party hard enough to get Restrepo confirmed or has actively blocked him.
They criticized the senator this year for taking five months to turn in his "blue slip" - an informal OK required from a nominee's home senators - even while he publicly praised Restrepo.
Toomey had said he was waiting for the judiciary committee to finish its background check. Critics dismissed that explanation, noting that Restrepo had been confirmed by the Senate less than two years earlier.