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In Senate, judicial picks, and Specter, hold key for pro-lifers

WASHINGTON (BP)–When Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is mentioned to George W. Bush these days, it would be easy to imagine the newly re-elected president thinking of that old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

The same day Democrat challenger John Kerry conceded the election to Bush, Specter issued what sounded like a warning for to president not to send the Senate any Supreme Court nominees who would oppose abortion rights. Specter, a Republican, is slated to ascend next year to the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, which considers all federal judicial nominees.

“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 reference to the 1973 high court ruling that legalized abortion, the Associated Press reported. “The president is well aware of what happened, when a bunch of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster…. And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning.”

Specter reinforced his view that the right to abortion is “inviolate” and said reversing Roe would be similar to overturning Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 opinion rejecting desegregation, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

That shot across the bow came only a few months after Bush risked his standing with pro-life Americans and other conservatives to campaign for Specter in a difficult GOP primary. To the chagrin of many conservative Republicans, the president chose to back Specter — a supporter of abortion rights and other liberal to moderate causes — against a conservative challenger, Rep. Pat Toomey. With Bush’s help, Specter won both the primary and general election.

As Judiciary Committee chairman, Specter would have the ability to exercise a large amount of control concerning Bush’s nominees.

As exit polling demonstrated, many Americans who voted for Bush did so because of their belief the president would promote conservative values, including the naming of pro-life nominees, especially for the Supreme Court. Several of Bush’s appeals court nominees were blocked from receiving confirmation votes by the filibustering tactics of Democrats in his first term.

The makeup of the Supreme Court was a major issue in this year’s campaign. It has been predicted the president may have an opportunity to replace as many as four justices in the next four years. That possibility makes judicial nominations, especially to the high court, the most significant abortion issue for now.

When asked about Supreme Court nominees at a Nov. 4 White House news conference, Bush reiterated his support for strict constructionist judges. The president told reporters he will “pick somebody who knows the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law. You might have heard that several times. I meant what I said.”

The election gave the GOP four additional seats in the Senate and several new pro-life senators –- seven, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

With 55 Republicans, it may be possible for the president’s allies to change the Senate rules and prohibit filibusters on judicial nominees. If so, Republicans would no longer need 60 votes to end a filibuster but only a majority to confirm a nominee. On several of Bush’s nominees in his first term, there was a majority for confirmation but not the 60 votes to invoke cloture.

With the additional GOP margin, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission predicted that if the Democrats’ tactics continue, “Majority Leader [Bill] Frist will try to change the rules to eliminate filibustering of nominees.”

Frist hinted that some form of action would be forthcoming. “I’m very confident that now we’ve gone from 51 seats to 55 seats, we will be able to overturn this, what has become customary, filibuster of judicial nominees,” Frist said Nov. 3, according to AP.

Then again, perhaps the Democrats will reconsider their strategy, it was suggested at a Washington news conference Nov. 4. Given that their leader, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, was defeated and his blocking of Bush’s nominees was a major issue in the election campaign, Senate Democrats may make a “different calculation,” said NRLC Executive Director David O’Steen.

“We would hope so, because the old technique, the Daschle technique, has really been rejected,” O’Steen said.

Or maybe Specter’s bark will be worse than his bite, NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson seemed to say at the same news conference.

“Sen. Specter does have a strongly pro-abortion record, so it is a concern to have somebody with that position taking over the chair of that important committee,” Johnson said. “Sen. Specter has supported every one of President Bush’s nominees, including some that clearly had different thinking on Roe v. Wade than he did. He has opposed every one of the Democratic filibusters, so we certainly would hope as chairman he would continue to address those in the same way.”

Johnson also said Supreme Court nominees, unlike district and appeals court appointees, would be expected to be considered by the full Senate, regardless of the Judiciary Committee’s position on the nomination.

The seven new pro-life senators, according to the NRLC, are Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, David Vitter of Louisiana, John Thune of South Dakota, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mel Martinez of Florida and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Twenty of the 38 new members of the House of Representatives are pro-life, and another three are expected to vote pro-life most of the time, according to the NRLC.

The Senate not only blocked judicial nominees with Daschle as minority leader, but it failed to act on a ban on human cloning. The House has approved a comprehensive prohibition on cloning. While the new pro-life members will increase support for a total ban, such a measure “will continue to face stiff resistance” from the biotechnology industry and others who desire to establish what Bush has described as “human embryo farms,” Johnson said.

Other pro-life measures that were not acted on in this Congress but should have additional support with new pro-life members are the Child Custody Protection Act and the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, Johnson said. The child custody bill would make it a federal offense to transport a minor secretly for an abortion to another state from a state that requires parental notice or consent. The unborn pain measure would require an abortion doctor to inform a woman seeking an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy of the pain her unborn child would experience during the procedure.

A Wirthlin Worldwide poll commissioned by NRLC found that 42 percent of voters in the Nov. 2 election said the abortion issue affected the way they voted. Of those, 56 percent said they voted for Bush and 36 percent said they voted for Kerry.

Also in the survey, eight percent of voters said abortion was the most important factor in their vote. Of those, 75 percent said they voted for Bush, while 25 percent indicated they chose Kerry.