- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

The 30-hour marathon in the Senate last week did not get a single judge confirmed or even sway one Democrat to drop his filibuster vote against a Bush nominee. Republican Senate staffers will admit privately that the debate, while incapable of moving the hardened hearts of Senate Democrats, is aimed at swaying voters.

Specifically, the Republican Party hopes the spectacle will make the conservative base realize that judges are important, and President Bush’s nominees cannot get fair treatment in the Senate as long as there are 48 Democrats (plus liberal independent Jim Jeffords there).

The task force managing the debate includes freshman Republican Sens. Jim Talent of Missouri, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Exit polling in all three states last year showed that these men, all anti-abortion, won on the strength of voters who identified abortion as their most important issue.

The judge debate is now, and has been for the past 30 years, about Roe vs. Wade. Democrats are not allowed to run for president, unless they worship at the altar of NARAL — see flips by Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich for cases in point.

The show on the Senate floor was about both parties sending a message back home to their bases: For our side to win on abortion, it is critical you elect more of us to the Senate.

This brings us to a fact troubling for pro-lifers: Expanding the Republican majority in the Senate and re-electing Mr. Bush still leaves the confirmation process in the hands of the pro-Roe forces — specifically, in the hands of Arlen Specter.

Mr. Specter is in line to chair the Judiciary Committee after the 2004 elections. The current chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, must surrender the gavel because of GOP term-limits on committee heads. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, is second in seniority on the panel, but he runs the Finance Committee, and his staff has said he will not give up that panel for the Judiciary chairmanship.

Next in line is Arlen Specter. Mr. Specter is well-known in Washington as a liberal Republican with a long record of derailing tax cuts, shilling for Big Labor and acquitting President Bill Clinton (citing ancient Scottish Common Law principles). To be sure, his record has improved this year in the light of a primary challenge from the right.

With the manifest importance of judges and Roe, Mr. Specter’s record on that issue deserves examination. Mr. Specter this year, as he has in the past, voted for a resolution by Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, declaring that Roe vs. Wade was correctly decided and “should not be overturned.”

Even pro-abortion legal scholars agree that Roe was jurisprudentially unsound. Yet, Mr. Specter repeatedly goes on record supporting it. If a Supreme Court vacancy occurred, the White House would have a hard time confidently putting up any judge who disagreed with Mr. Specter — meaning we would get another Justice Souter.

There should be no doubt about Mr. Specter’s willingness to derail conservative Supreme Court nominees. “To Bork” is now a verb in Washington thanks, in part, to Mr. Specter, who played a central role in sinking Robert Bork’s nomination. The Senator from Scotland, as Hill staffers refer to him, explained in his memoirs that “Bork’s narrow approach is dangerous for constitutional government.” Mr. Bork, he argued, failed to grasp that the Constitution is “a living, growing document, responsive to the needs of the nation.”

In other words, Mr. Bork’s sin was that he believed in strict interpretation of the Constitution.

But there are at least four ways to keep the Judiciary gavel out of Mr. Specter’s hands. The first is for Pennsylvania’s Republican voters to discard Mr. Specter for conservative Rep. Pat Toomey in the April 27 Senate primary.

Many Republicans object that Mr. Toomey, unlike Mr. Specter, would be vulnerable in November, running the risk of giving a seat to the Democrats. Such “lesser-of-two-evils” calculus (arguing that Mr. Specter is better than a Democrat) may have time and a place, but it’s not here.

With four and maybe five Democratic senators in the South retiring, Republican control of the upper chamber is nearly guaranteed next year. Even if Mr. Toomey were a guaranteed loser in a general election, the pro-life cause would benefit from a Specter loss.

If the choice is between 52 GOP senators with a Judiciary Chairman Specter as opposed to 51 Republicans and Chairman Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, the decision to get rid of Mr. Specter should be a no-brainer for pro-life voters.

But even if Mr. Specter is re-elected, there are ways to block his ascension to Judiciary Chairman.

Mr. Grassley could sacrifice his control over Finance and run Judiciary instead.

The Senate GOP leadership could buy off Mr. Specter, giving him other committee chairmanships, his choice of office, or undivided support in April, as long as he passes up the Judiciary gavel.

Also, the GOP conference could buck custom and tradition, ignore seniority, and skip Mr. Specter for Mr. Kyl.

Finally, given that Mr. Hatch has been unable to do his work thanks to unprecedented filibusters, waive his term limits.

None of these measures would be easy. Any would take courage by the Senate GOP leadership. But Roe vs. Wade is not simply a matter of constitutional integrity. It is, very literally, a matter of life and death. Such a matter cannot be left in Arlen Specter’s hands.

Timothy P. Carney is a reporter for the Evans-Novak Political Report.


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