Outside of a presidential election, it’s rare that Americans ever get to vote on anything that will directly affect abortion policy in the United States. For 30 years, making domestic abortion rules has been the sole privilege of the courts. Voters can elect pro-life senators, but even those senators have difficulty applying their pro-life views in a way that alters the courts’ abortion decisions. Elections and votes, for the most part, just don’t matter to abortion.
The Toomey-Specter race is an exception. Every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is strongly pro-life, except for Arlen Specter. But it is Specter who, through the Senate’s unalterable seniority rules, is set to be the next Republican chairman of the committee.
As followers of the recent nominations wars can attest, who serves as a party’s top member on the Judiciary Committee makes a tremendous difference for judges. As chairman, that member literally sets the agenda, determining which nominees are voted on when (or ever). Even as the top member in the minority, that senator decides which nominees sail through without difficulty, and which nominees face a tough fight, and are slowed or even stopped. Perhaps even more important, the party’s leader on the committee is his party’s voice in all judicial-confirmation battles, both in the committee itself and in the full Senate. He literally controls the vast majority of the speaking time that his party can use to defend (or attack) a judge. He becomes his party for purposes of a nomination fight.
As the current chairman, Orrin Hatch of Utah has put up a tough fight for President Bush’s judges. He has especially fought hard for those with strong pro-life views, rebutting attacks from NARAL and other abortion groups. During a hearing on Priscilla Owen of Texas, for example, Hatch denounced the “axis of profit” of abortionists who make billions of dollars from the Supreme Court’s abortion on demand policies.
This defense will come to an end if Specter returns to the Senate next year. Hatch is forced to retire as chairman at the end of this year. The next top Republican on the committee will be Arlen Specter–if he is reelected.
A flavor of what pro-life nominees can expect from Specter was provided at a recent hearing on William Pryor of Alabama. Democrats attacked Pryor as too conservative, Republicans rebutted the charges. Then, towards the end of the hearing, Arlen Specter showed up…and attacked Pryor. His questioning especially tried to paint Pryor as extreme on abortion. He grilled Pryor about strong pro-life statements he had made outside of the courtroom, clearly expecting Pryor to back away from his pro-life views. (He didn’t.) By the end, Specter had done more damage to Pryor than any Democrat had.
Particularly as a Republican, and as the Republicans’ leader and voice on the Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter will have more power to bloody and ultimately stop pro-life judicial nominees than any Democrat does. Not only would a pro-life Supreme Court nominee face maximum attacks from the Democrats and the media. With Specter as chairman, he will face problems from within the Republican party as well. The media will seize on Specter’s disdain for a pro-life nominee, using it to paint the nominee as extreme, as someone even “some Republicans” have concerns about.
Any pro-life judge will have a tough fight being confirmed to the Supreme Court. Even with Republicans united and fighting hard, it will be a steep, narrow path to the court. If Specter is in control of Republicans’ resources and strategy, that path narrows to virtually nothing. No open enemy in the Democrats’ ranks can do as much damage to a pro-life judge as a saboteur within Republicans’ own ranks.
The next president appears likely appoint two or maybe three new justices to the Supreme Court. These justices now serve for decades. If Republicans cannot confirm pro-life judges in a second Bush term, they will have surrendered abortion policy to the abortion lobby for another generation. No limits on when abortion can be used or why, or even partial-birth abortion. Just abortion on demand as far as the eye can see. And no election will be able to change this. Except for the one tomororw in Pennsylvania.
–Peter Smith is a pseudonym for a close observer of the judicial-confirmation battles.