- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

Sen. Arlen Specter, who set off a firestorm of controversy last week among conservatives who interpreted certain remarks as a warning to President Bush not to nominate pro-life judicial candidates, pledged yesterday to treat the president’s choices fairly and quickly.

Mr. Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican next in line to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee, said his earlier remarks had been taken out of context and he would not attempt to impose a “litmus test.”

Karl Rove, senior White House political adviser, said Mr. Bush has been assured that all court nominees will be treated fairly.

“Senator Specter is a man of his word, and we’ll take him at his word if he becomes chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Mr. Rove told “Fox News Sunday.”

“He told the president, ‘I will make certain your nominees receive a hearing. I’ll make certain they receive a vote, and the appellate nominees will be brought to the floor,’” Mr. Rove said.

For his own part, the Pennsylvania Republican yesterday said he would not require nominees to back his stance on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision making abortion a constitutional right.

“Although I am pro-choice, I have supported many pro-life nominees,” Mr. Specter said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“That doesn’t mean that I have a litmus test, or that I don’t give appropriate deference to whom the president nominates.”

Mr. Specter made his initial statements during a Wednesday night press conference, as he was discussing the success of Democrats in blocking the confirmation of Mr. Bush’s judicial picks who are pro-life.

“When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely. 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,” he said.

Mr. Specter said yesterday that his comments were not intended to serve as a warning to Mr. Bush and that “my record is pretty plain.”

“The fact is that I have supported all of President Bush’s nominees in committee and on the floor. I have never applied a litmus test. I have supported Chief Justice [William H.] Rehnquist for confirmation as chief justice when I knew he had voted against Roe v. Wade,” said Mr. Specter, noting that he also supported Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

However, Mr. Specter opposed the nomination of Judge Robert Bork, who was chosen by President Reagan, but rejected by the Senate.

The Senate requires 60 votes to end debate and vote on a judge, and Republicans now hold 55 seats, which, Mr. Specter said, is not enough to break the Democrats’ logjam.

“The concern as to confirmation is really the recognition of a political fact,” said Mr. Specter, who urged Mr. Bush to reach out to Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.

Senate staffers said last week that discussions are under way to consider whether Mr. Specter should serve as the Judiciary Committee chairman or elect an alternative committee member. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, is the most senior committee member next to the current chairman, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, but has indicated he wants to remain the head of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, is next after Mr. Specter in seniority and is under consideration as a prospective chairman.

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, says he is not convinced by Mr. Specter’s assurances that all judicial nominees will be treated fairly.

“He is a problem, and he must be derailed,” Mr. Dobson said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Mr. Dobson described Mr. Specter’s original remarks last week as “one of the most foolish and ill-considered comments that a politician has made in a long time.”

“There are many, many members of that committee [who] are more qualified and less of a problem then Senator Specter,” he said.

Responding to Mr. Dobson’s criticisms, Mr. Specter said, “The situation on getting 60 votes is not my making. It is the making of the Democrats, and they have demonstrated it.”

The decision will be left to the Senate as to who will lead the committee during the next congressional session, not the president, Mr. Rove said.

“Just as we wouldn’t like them to decide who are the staff assistants at the White House, they certainly do not want us to determine who’s committee chairman on the Hill,” Mr. Rove said.

NBC “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert asked Mr. Rove whether Mr. Bush is so indebted to evangelical Christians that he must nominate a Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Mr. Rove said no judge will face any litmus test on any issue that might come before the court.

“The president said during the campaign that in virtually every speech that he gave, that he would continue to nominate men and women to the bench who are well-qualified and who would strictly interpret the law, who knew the difference between personal agendas and personal views on the one hand and the strict interpretation of the law. He’ll continue to uphold that commitment,” Mr. Rove said.

“He has sent forward some terrific nominees, men and women of tremendous intellectual and legal abilities, and they are people who share his philosophy. The judges are to be impartial umpires, not activists, not legislators who just happen to be wearing robes, but to be impartial umpires who strictly interpret the Constitution and apply it,” Mr. Rove said.

Mr. Bush is expected to have several opportunities to shape the court, with most justices old or in ill health. The current court is one of the oldest in history, with two members older than 80 (Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice John Paul Stevens) and only Justice Thomas younger than 65.

The chief justice was diagnosed recently with a serious form of cancer, and press reports also have said Justice O’Connor is interested in retiring.

Mr. Dobson said the Senate confirmation of new Supreme Court justices will be the most important job of the new Congress.

“And especially, especially, putting conservative judges on the judiciary, that is the key to everything,” Mr. Dobson said.

“Miguel Estrada would be at the top of the list,” Mr. Dobson said, referring to a conservative nominee to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the District whose name was withdrawn in the face of a Democratic filibuster.

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