Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) has never been a favorite of the far right. Often referred to as a "RINO" (Republican in Name Only), Specter has traditionally been quite moderate on the social issues that matter most to the right-wing base of his party. On Wednesday, November 3rd, Specter reignited their ire with an off-handed comment about how he did not believe that anti-abortion judges would be appointed during the next four years. "When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely," Specter said in a post-election interview that threatened his appointment as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.1
As the senior ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Specter would normally receive the position of chair without much debate. Instead Specter was forced to defend his right to ascend into the Chairman's role.
Conservative groups said Specter's comments suggested that he would not allow confirmation of an anti-abortion judge. In Tony Perkins' Washington Update from the Family Research Council they described the opposition to Specter's chairmanship by saying, "It began after he, as incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would impose an anti-life litmus test on the president's judicial nominees."2 Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family called Specter a "big-time problem."3
Many conservative groups started campaigns asking constituents to contact their congressional offices and voice opposition to Specter leading the Senate Judiciary Committee. Janet LaRue, Concerned Women for America's chief counsel, described these efforts saying, the grassroots "have inundated the Senate with tens of thousands of e-mails and phone calls protesting Specter's appointment as committee chairman…."4 The Christian Defense Coalition organized a pray-in on the steps of Congress to show their opposition and is planning a nationwide protest against Specter on December 9th.
As a result of the opposition and pressure from within his party, Specter later drafted a statement pledging that he would hold prompt hearings and votes on Bush's judicial nominees. He also promised to try to curtail Democratic filibusters on the nominees. In response to the conservative criticisms, he said in the statement: "I have not and would not use a litmus test to deny confirmation to pro-life nominees."5
The formal vote won't take place until January but it appears that Specter now has the position. The nine Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, including Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the former chair, decided to back him after he released his statement. Hatch had to leave the chairmanship because of the Senate GOP's six-year term limits for chairmen.
Astute political observers note that this debate may be a harbinger of the civil war that threatens the Republican Party. In the meantime, reproductive rights leaders are still questioning whether this is a battle that they should become involved in. While Specter may be more moderate than many of his conservative colleagues, he is still far from a reproductive rights advocate. As Elizabeth Cavendish from NARAL Pro-Choice America said, "Arlen Specter is pro-choice the way Louisiana is French."6 NARAL gave him a 21 out of 100 points on its scorecard.7
- Mary Curtius, "Specter Draws Ire on Judge Comments," Contra Costa Times, 5 November 2004, accessed 29 November 2004
- Family Research Council, "A Specter of Promise," Tony Perkins' Washington Update, 19 November 2004, Electronic copy.
- Ellen Goodman, "Considering Alternatives, a Defense of Arlen Specter," Houston Chronicle, 17 November 2004, accessed 29 November 2004 < http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/editorial/outlook/2906904>.
- Robert B. Bluey, "Anti-Specter Forces Aren't Calling It Quits; Threaten Retaliation Against Santorum," Human Events, 19 November 2004, accessed 29 November 2004 < http://www.humaneventsonline.com/article.php?id=5842>.
- Helen Dewar, "Judiciary panel backs Specter; He promised prompt votes on Bush picks," Washington Post, 19 November 2004, accessed 29 November 2004 < http://www.washingtonpost.com/ wp-dyn/articles/A60964-2004Nov18.html>.
- Ellen Goodman.