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Specter chairmanship continues to generate opposition

WASHINGTON (BP)–Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania continues to scramble to save his presumptive chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, while some pro-life and pro-family organizations maintain their opposition to such a scenario.

Specter, a Republican, has sought to undo the damage from comments he made the day after the Nov. 2 election that were widely interpreted as a warning to President Bush not to send to the Senate any Supreme Court nominees who would oppose abortion rights. When pro-life leaders reacted by announcing their opposition to his expected ascendancy to chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the pro-choice senator began denying he had warned the president about nominees and arguing he would not block pro-life nominees.

In a Nov. 10 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, Specter said he had “consistently opposed any litmus test.” Specter pointed to his confirmation votes for such current justices as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, as well as his support for all of Bush’s nominees in his first four years in the White House.

Specter has been talking to GOP senators individually to assure them he would not block Bush’s nominees from a floor vote, according to the Associated Press. He also wants to meet with the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee during the week of Nov. 15, said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who is on the panel, the AP reported.

“I expect we’ll sit down with him and hear what his plans are to support the president and his nominees,” Cornyn said, according to the AP. “The ball’s in Senator Specter’s court to satisfy the Republicans on the committee and in the Republican conference.”

While he may satisfy the Republicans, it appears unlikely he will convert some pro-life leaders. For them, Specter’s ill-advised, post-election comments are only the latest in a long list of transgressions against the pro-life movement that dates back to at least 1987. Then, he was a leader in the opposition to Robert Bork, a Reagan Supreme Court nominee who opposed the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion and was rejected by the Senate.

“I don’t see how social conservatives can ever trust a man who led the charge to block Robert Bork from being a Supreme Court justice,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Arlen Specter has not been a reliable friend of those who want conservative, strict constructionist judges on the federal judiciary.

“People of traditional religious faith didn’t go to the polls and vote overwhelmingly for President Bush only to have his nominees stymied or given only lukewarm support by the chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee,” Land told Baptist Press Nov. 11. “I would hope that the Republican senators would look at Senator Specter’s record and realize that it would be far better to have someone who is in line with the vast majority of the Republican Senate than someone like Specter, who is really a political anachronism, a fossil left over from the Rockefeller days of the Republican Party that have been buried on the ash heap of history.”

Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee have been among the leaders in opposing a Specter chairmanship.

Specter is an “unacceptable candidate,” Focus on the Family Vice President Tom Minnery said in a written statement Nov. 10.

“He has proven himself untrustworthy not only by his recent statements but by his 24-year record of bouncing from one side of the ideological aisle to the other,” Minnery said. “The president and the Republicans in Congress simply cannot afford the risk of having Arlen Specter act as the point man for judicial nominees.”

FRC President Tony Perkins wrote Nov. 10 that the prospect of Specter as Judiciary chairman “is a real and present threat to pro-life judges and to pivotal legislation like the marriage amendment.”

Specter has said he “would have voted against the marriage amendment earlier this year if given the opportunity,” Perkins said. “The committee is simply too important for the issues that won elections last week to [be] put in Specter’s control.”

Specter is in line for the Judiciary chairmanship because the current chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, is prevented by the party’s term limits from serving more than six years in that role. Specter, who was elected to his fifth term on Nov. 2, has the most seniority of the remaining committee members. The chairman has the authority to exercise a large amount of control over the confirmation process.

The committee or the entire Republican conference could act to withhold the chairmanship from Specter. Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee could have a decisive role in the decision. Foes of a Specter chairmanship are encouraging pro-life and pro-family Americans to contact Frist and other senators to express their opposition.

The federal judiciary was a major issue in the election campaign. Senate Democrats filibustered and blocked the confirmation of several Bush nominees to federal appeals courts in his first term. As exit polling showed, a sizable portion of those who voted for Bush did so based on “moral values.” Many of those voters believed the president would support pro-life and pro-family policies. It seemed clear many of those voters saw judicial nominations as a part of a pro-life, pro-family stance.

After the election, Bush reiterated his support for strict constructionist judges, saying he will pick for the Supreme Court “somebody who knows the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law.” It has been forecast Bush may have the opportunity to replace as many as four justices in his second term.

Bush helped Specter gain re-election this year to the chagrin of many conservative Republicans. The president campaigned for Specter during a difficult GOP primary race against Rep. Pat Toomey, a pro-life conservative.