Specter Wins Unanimous Backing From Judiciary Republicans

Posted November 18, 2004 at 3:49pm

The GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously lined up behind Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ending a two-week standoff over comments about abortion that eventually encompassed the Senator’s views on all matters before the panel and threatened his ascension to the chairmanship.

Specter read a four-paragraph statement, as the committee members stood behind him in the Senate’s Radio/TV Gallery, pledging his loyalty to President Bush’s judicial nominees and guaranteeing that his moderate views would not derail tort reform measures or conservative constitutional amendments impacting such issues as same-sex marriage.

Specter also signaled his belief that there is precedent for Republicans to use the “constitutional,” or “nuclear,” option to end judicial filibusters, a method of employing a parliamentary tactic to require just 51 votes to confirm such nominees.

Before the statement was read, outgoing Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who worked closely with Specter on the statement, flatly declared that there was “unanimity” on the panel for Specter.

“Arlen Specter will be our next chairman,” Hatch said.

After the 45-minute session with reporters, Specter left for a 4 p.m. meeting with a trio of conservative leaders who have opposed him: former GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer; Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council; and Paul Weyrich, founder of the Free Congress Foundation.

Addressing the press, but really speaking to the conservative activists who have opposed Specter, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said: “I believe he has shown clearly that he believes the filibuster is bad for the Senate. … Judge us by what we do … and time will prove you wrong.”

“We’ve been in the trenches, and Arlen Specter has stood side by side, toe to toe,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

Much of Specter’s statement was a reiteration of the comments he has made since the controversy broke two weeks ago. While spelling out that he is unlikely to vote against any of Bush’s nominees in the future, Specter did leave himself a tiny bit of wiggle room: “I have no reason to believe that I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy of nomination.”

On legislative issues before the committee, Specter’s said: “I intend to consult with my colleagues on the committee’s legislative agenda, including tort reform, and will have balanced hearings with all viewpoints represented.”

Questioned by reporters, Specter said none of the positions in the statement were concessions on his part, that he was merely stating points that he has always believed. He said that a chairman of a committee “ought not to use his personal position” on issues to block an issue that had otherwise broad support from his colleagues, and that the issue should be then fought out on the floor.

The statement was drafted Wednesday, he said, and he spent Thursday morning showing it to his Judiciary colleagues, all of whom have been under siege by activists seeking to deny him the gavel. Senators have privately been saying that, even though rules call for chairmen to be technically selected in January, they needed to settle the matter this week so that the controversy wouldn’t last throughout the holiday season.

The statement Thursday did just that, as far as committee Republicans were concerned, and Specter joked afterward about the episode. He compared it to the criticism he’s faced over the years for his staff work on the Warren Commission, for his vote in the 1980s against Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, for his interrogation of law professor Anita Hill during Justice Clarence Thomas’ nomination hearings, his near-defeat in 1992 and his narrow win in this year’s GOP primary.

Asked if he were a political cat and had nine lives, he smiled and said, “Nine? I’d say 19.”

Following is the complete text of Specter’s statement:

“I have not and would not use a litmus test to deny confirmation to pro-life nominees. I voted to confirm Chief Justice Rehnquist after he had voted against Roe v. Wade. Similarly, I voted to confirm pro-life nominees, Justice Scalia, Justice O’Connor and Justice Kennedy. I lead the successful fight to confirm Justice Thomas which almost cost me my Senate seat in 1992.

I have assured the President that I would give his nominees quick Committee hearings and early Committee votes so floor action could be promptly scheduled. I have voted for all of President Bush’s judicial nominees in Committee and on the floor, and I have no reason to believe that I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy of nomination. I believe I can help the President get his nominees approved just as I did on confirmation of two controversial Pennsylvania Circuit nominees when other, similarly situated Circuit nominees, were being filibustered.

I have already registered my opposition to the Democrats’ filibusters with 17 floor statements and will use my best efforts to stop any future filibusters. It is my hope and expectation that we can avoid future filibusters and judicial gridlock with a 55-45 Republican majority and election results demonstrating voter dissatisfaction with Democratic filibusters. If a rule change is necessary to avoid filibusters, there are relevant recent precedents to secure rule changes with 51 votes.

I intend to consult with my colleagues on the Committee’s legislative agenda, including tort reform, and will have balanced hearings with all viewpoints represented. I have long objected to the tactic used of bottling up civil rights legislation in the Judiciary Committee when it should have gone to the floor for an up or down vote. Accordingly, I would not support Committee action to bottle up legislation or a constitutional amendment, even one which I personally opposed, reserving my own position for the floor.