The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, July 21, 2003  

Pryor Nomination Rests in the Hands of Sen. Specter

Could we, as a nation, at this moment be in more slippery, less predictable hands?

Okay, that’s overstating the threat a little bit, but it’s true the fate of the Bush administration’s nomination of ethically challenged and constitutionally impaired William Pryor to the U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, rests on the decision of the wildly erratic and thoroughly unprincipled Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports (“Foes on Right, Left Await Specter’s Vote on Federal Judge,” by Chris Mondics, July 21, p. A3):

Specter, 73, has long had a reputation as a moderate to liberal lawmaker. So his support for so-far-stalled conservative judicial nominees such as Priscilla Owen and Miguel Estrada to federal appeals courts has led to speculation that he is seeking to protect his flanks ahead of a Republican primary challenge from Rep. Patrick Toomey of Allentown.[…]

Specter has been under scrutiny from the right and the left not only for his votes on judicial nominations but also for positions he has taken on tax cuts and environmental issues. Some observers sense a shift to the right in response to Toomey’s challenge.

But Specter’s career is difficult to characterize ideologically, seeming at times to careen all over the political spectrum. He won the seemingly permanent enmity of some conservatives in 1987 by opposing the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork, then a darling of the right.

But in 1991, he carried heavy water for the conservative cause when he took on the role of lead inquisitor of Anita Hill, chief witness against conservative Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Specter’s aggressive questioning of Hill triggered a feminist backlash and fueled the campaign of Democrat Lynn Yeakel, who almost toppled him the following year.

No matter what one thinks of Judge Bork, Pryor isn’t worthy of sharpening his pencils. Rep. Toomey’s primary challenge from the right can be the only explanation of Sen. Specter’s wavering on the Pryor nomination. Unless, of course, Sen. Specter doesn’t deserve the “moderate to liberal” moniker he has so carefully cultivated -- on an “as-needed” basis, anyway.

The Inquirer article offers no new insight into Sen. Specter’s position, about which the lawmaker says he remains undecided. But the paper reiterates his by now very familiar stance: “For his part, Specter says he believes that the President should be able to choose nominees who match his own ideology and that only in unusual cases should the Senate overrule him.”

It’s up to you, Sen. Specter. We’ll be watching.

[Post-publication addendum (July 23): With help from Suburban Guerrilla, Rittenhouse offers readers the following phone numbers for contacting Sen. Specter in Washington and at any of his six district offices: Washington: (202) 224-4254; Philadelphia: (215) 597-7200; Pittsburgh: (412) 644-3400; Allentown: (610) 434-1444; Erie: (814) 453-3010; Harrisburg: (717) 782-3951; and Scranton: (570) 346-2006. Call today!]

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