- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, crowned by a leading conservative magazine as the “Worst Republican Senator” just a year ago, has become something of a hero of the right as he fights for the confirmation of federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr.

“Whether you love Arlen Specter or not, one thing is true: He is a very smart lawyer,” said Kay R. Daly, president of the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, who last year was part of a massive effort to keep Mr. Specter from becoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “He won’t put up with any of the reindeer games Democrats play.”

Conservatives are applauding Mr. Specter for enforcing strict time limits on committee hearings, ushering through a raft of President Bush’s judicial nominees and getting Democrats to agree to a tight schedule for the Roberts confirmation hearings that could have him seated on the Supreme Court by the start of the session next month.

Less than a year ago, it was a different story.

The effort to deny the Pennsylvania Republican the chairmanship — which Mr. Specter said nearly succeeded — was joined by a wide range of conservatives who had harbored grudges against “Snarlin’ Arlen” for decades. When National Review magazine labeled him the “Worst Republican Senator” in a cover story last year, editors had plenty of reasons from which to pick.

One of the rawest memories for conservatives was Mr. Specter’s opposition to the nomination of federal Judge Robert H. Bork to the high court in 1987. Without the Republican’s opposition on the Judiciary Committee, many say, the conservative jurist would have been confirmed.

The anger came to a dramatic head last year after Mr. Bush helped rescue Mr. Specter from a tight primary race against conservative Rep. Patrick J. Toomey. Shortly after his victory, Mr. Specter reminded everyone of his streak of independence by saying he doubted that a pro-life nominee to the Supreme Court could be confirmed.

“There were real concerns about Senator Specter’s judicial agenda,” said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition who helped lead the effort to block Mr. Specter. “Looking back, I would have to say Senator Specter has done a fairly good job.”

Mr. Mahoney said last week that Mr. Specter has a near-perfect record of getting Mr. Bush’s nominees to the federal bench confirmed. Mr. Mahoney’s only complaint was that Mr. Specter didn’t voice stronger support for the “nuclear option” to break Democratic filibusters earlier this year.

“A week before Senator Specter became chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I don’t think anybody could have hoped for what we’ve seen in the past 10 months,” he said.

Sean Rushton, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice, said Mr. Specter has done an “excellent” job. Mr. Rushton credited Mr. Specter’s independence for his effectiveness.

“Because of his independence, he has a great deal of authority with both Democrats and Republicans,” Mr. Rushton said. “And, thus far, most of the cards he has thrown have been directed toward the Democrats.”

Never has Mr. Specter’s independence been more evident than it was last month, when NARAL Pro-Choice America ran a TV advertisement accusing Judge Roberts of supporting an abortion-clinic bomber. Conservatives complained immediately, but it wasn’t until Mr. Specter requested the ad be pulled that NARAL complied — within hours of getting a letter from him.

But a Specter letter to Judge Roberts, advising him of some questions he planned to ask about the legal reach of the federal government, which was applauded by liberals such as Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, raised concerns among some conservatives.

“The only issue that has raised a red flag for us was that letter,” Mr. Rushton said. “But another way to read that is that he’s taking over that issue and will be able to control it.”

Mr. Specter also has won plaudits as a hard-nosed negotiator, Senate observers said, especially when compared with his predecessor as Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. It’s a trait that doesn’t appear to have diminished as Mr. Specter has battled cancer since February.

“I have gained new respect for the guy under his current circumstances,” Mr. Rushton said. “That is really, really, really incredible. There are few people in the world who could do all he’s doing in his health.”

But that’s not to say conservatives don’t worry that Mr. Specter might still flex his independence before it’s all over.

“The one thing you’ve always been able to count on with Arlen Specter,” Mrs. Daly said, “is you never know what he’s going to do next.”

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