Politics & Policy

Senator’s Response

Your recent editorial (“The Door for Specter“) begins by misquoting my comments and mischaracterizing my views on the judicial-confirmation process.

Contrary to your assertions, an objective reading of the transcript of my November 3 press conference confirms that I did not “warn” the president about anything and that I was very respectful of his authority to appoint constitutional judges.

You are rearguing the Pennsylvania Republican primary election, in which you strongly supported my opponent, even running two hyperbolic cover stories on the contest. That election has been over since April.

The fact is, I have supported all of President Bush’s nominees in committee and on the Senate floor. I have never applied a litmus test. I supported Chief Justice Rehnquist for confirmation as Chief Justice when I knew he had voted against Roe v. Wade. I supported Justices Kennedy, O’Connor, and Scalia, and I led the fight to confirm Justice Thomas, which almost cost me my Senate seat in the following year’s election. Most recently, in 2002 and 2003, President Bush nominated two staunchly conservative and pro-life Pennsylvanians to the prestigious 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals: Brooks Smith and Michael Fisher. Judge Fisher had recently been a candidate for governor of Pennsylvania and had made his pro-life views a key part of his platform. In both cases, Democrats raised objections to these nominees that could well have led to obstruction and filibuster. In both cases, I applied the full weight of my influence on the Judiciary Committee to shepherd these nominees through to successful confirmation. My record is clear that although I am pro-choice, I have supported many pro-life nominees. I strongly believe that the president’s choice of a Supreme Court justice should be respected, absent lack of qualification or judicial temperament.

My prediction that Roe will not be overturned is simply my opinion, based largely on the political fact that Democrats have a history of filibustering nominees. It is not a warning to anyone that I won’t support a pro-life nominee. The reality is, you need 60 votes for cloture, to cut off debate and get an up-or-down vote on a nominee. I have voted consistently to cut off debate and allow the president’s nominees those votes, to which they are entitled.

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I would offer perhaps the best chance of building consensus, dissolving Democratic obstruction, and getting the president’s nominees confirmed. I learned a long time ago that if you want to get something done in Washington, you have to be willing to cross party lines. We have a solid team of 55 Republicans, thanks to a great victory that Senators Frist and Allen engineered. But 55 is not 60, which means we’re going to need Democrats’ support to get a legislative agenda and nominees through.

When in recent years the Democrats resorted to the unprecedented tactic of filibustering President Bush’s nominees, I immediately and forcefully objected. I was among the first to call for a marathon, round-the-clock debate to call attention to the Democratic obstruction which we held in November, 2003. I also went to the Senate floor on 17 separate occasions to protest the Democratic filibusters of such fine jurists as Miguel Estrada and Charles Pickering.

Perhaps most importantly, I fought the filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominees by seeking to change the Senate rules. On April 1, 2004, I introduced S. Res. 327, a protocol to establish prompt action on all judicial nominees. Specifically, my protocol provides that all nominees will have a Judiciary Committee hearing within 30 days of nomination, a Judiciary Committee vote within 30 days of the hearing, and a floor vote within 30 days of the Committee vote. While my protocol has not been adopted by the Senate, it would be my guide for action for all of President Bush’s nominees in his second term.

The Senate Judiciary Committee must never be a rubber stamp. We must diligently review each and every nominee to ensure that they are worthy of the high position to which they have been nominated. But we must approach our work with humility, with deference to a President who has earned the right to nominate individuals who reflect his views, and with a recognition that the highest judicial seats in this land must be open to people on both sides of the hotly contested abortion issue.

Senator Arlen Specter

Washington, D.C.

The Editors respond: Senator Specter sometimes feints right and sometimes left, but at least his critics cannot accuse him of trying to disguise his personality. No one can say that he has embarked on a charm offensive with the Right.

We preferred Specter’s primary opponent to him on all kinds of issues, from Social Security to taxes to cloning. In considering his elevation to chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we have objected only to his position and record on the pertinent issues: chiefly judicial selection and confirmation, but also tort reform and racial preferences. It’s not as though we are objecting to his chairmanship of the Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee (though come to think of it. . .). He’s the one raising the primary campaign, not us.

And he’s the one mischaracterizing his statement the day after the election. He said that he considered Roe to be “inviolate”; said that it was settled law, like Brown v. Board of Education; said that any nominee who disagreed was likely to inspire a filibuster; did not say that he would oppose such a filibuster; and said that he “would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations that I mentioned.” The clear import was to warn the president not to nominate anyone who might oppose Roe. Add that to the senator’s past statements opposing originalism as a judicial philosophy, demanding that judicial nominees treat “diversity” as a justification for discrimination, and the like, and there is reason to doubt the sincerity of the comments the senator now feels it necessary to make to control the damage from his remarks.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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