- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2003

Sen. Arlen Specter’s prospects of becoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee if he wins a fourth Senate term in Pennsylvania is making him a target of some conservatives.

“You put a person like that in charge of the Judiciary Committee, and we won’t see many of President Bush’s nominees get through,” says Connie Mackey of the Family Research Council. “With regard to social issues, he is a poster child of NARAL and NOW.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America, formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and the National Organization for Women are two leading abortion-rights groups and vigorously lobby the Judiciary Committee to defeat conservative judicial nominees.

Because of Republican-imposed term limits on chairmanships, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah is expected to relinquish his committee position after the 2004 elections. Based on seniority, Mr. Specter is the next Republican in line. He will inherit a deeply divided committee, which is the venue of some of the Senate’s most bitter, partisan fights over issues such as abortion and homosexual “marriage.”

Mr. Specter, who favors abortion rights, publicly has expressed reservations about several of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees and, according to some Republicans, has worked behind the scenes to block others. And some Republicans never have forgiven Mr. Specter for his opposition to President Reagan’s nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.

“It will be just awful,” says one Republican member of the Judiciary Committee. “Arlen will go off with [Democrats] agenda more often than he’ll go with ours. Many of President Bush’s nominees just won’t get through.”

It’s an issue that Mr. Specter’s Republican primary opponent, Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, has seized on to raise money outside of Pennsylvania.

“Republicans recognize that Arlen Specter has spent his career obstructing everything Republicans stand for,” Mr. Toomey said last week on his way to a fund-raiser in New York City. “But the most palpable fear among Republicans is what would happen if Arlen Specter is re-elected and becomes the next chairman of the Judiciary Committee. It’s a frightening prospect.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee from New York, last summer suggested that Mr. Bush break the impasse over his judicial nominations by nominating Mr. Specter to the federal courts. Mr. Specter, he said, would get unanimous support from Democrats.

Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way, says Mr. Specter once was known as an “independent Republican,” but in recent years has become “an increasingly reliable vote for Republicans.” Asked whether his group would support a Specter nomination, Mr. Neas paused, and declined to say.

“Senator Specter is not here to be a rubber stamp,” Specter spokesman Bill Reynolds says. “He’s going to look at the record of each nominee.”

But he noted that Mr. Specter has not cast a vote against a single Bush nominee.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric out there,” Mr. Reynolds says. “But just look at what President Bush has to say about Senator Specter.”

Mr. Bush, who has named Mr. Specter as one of the state chairmen for his re-election campaign, said recently: “I look forward to working with him as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the United States Senate to make sure my judges get through and appointed.”

Republican strategists say Mr. Bush doesn’t want to upset what in the past has been a comfortable Republican seat. In 1998, Mr. Specter won re-election with 61 percent of the vote — much of that support coming from Democrats and independents supportive of abortion rights. Pennsylvania casts 21 votes in the Electoral College, and only four states have greater weight there.

Some Republican strategists say a liberal Republican such as Mr. Specter, who appeals to Democrats and others, can attract independents and Democrats to the Republican ticket, while a conservative Republican such as Mr. Toomey cannot.

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