Specter Chairmanship in Jeopardy?

Tide runs against Specter (The Hill)

Frist, Santorum and other Republicans reported that their telephones, fax machines and e-mail inboxes were jammed by protests from conservative activists who demanded that Specter not be allowed to succeed term-limited Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). “This is huge with the base. It’s mushrooming, and it’s not going away,†a GOP Senate aide said.


Time and Senate procedure may work to Specter̢۪s advantage. The process for choosing a successor to Hatch, who will step down because of Republican Conference-imposed term limits, requires that members of the judiciary panel vote on a new chairman. That recommendation must then be ratified by the full conference. But the committee is not expected to vote on Specter until January, when seven new GOP members have been sworn in and given committee assignments. Conservative activists may be hard-pressed to sustain their push against Specter for two more months.

On the other hand, a new class of conservatives will join the Senate, including former Reps. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Rep. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who could press the leadership on behalf of their constituencies. Another incoming freshman, former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), said over the weekend that the makeup of the federal judiciary was a main theme of his campaign.

In addition, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee may be emboldened by anonymity to vote against Specter’s chairmanship, as the January vote will take place through secret ballot. “I think there will be votes against him with a secret ballot,†said an aide to a Republican member of the committee. “The key is whether any Judiciary members lobby senators to vote against him prior to the conference vote.†The aide added, “Specter not the right person for the position. Specter has shown he’s not a team player.â€

Specter may be hurt by his positions on tort reform, a central element of Bush̢۪s second-term agenda.

President Bush won a majority running, at least partly, on the issue of judicial reform. Tort reform and strict constructionist judges were not only part of the platform, they were heavily emphasized in the campaign, including the presidential debates. He’s entitled to have his nominees confirmed, with the Senate there to ensure that they are professionally qualified and of decent character. The idea that a minority of Senators should be allowed to, in effect, choose judges stands the Constitution on its head.

Ditto the case of Specter as a rogue committee chairman. Letting one man effectively overturn the results of a sweeping electoral victory for the GOP would be malfeasance on the part of the other Republicans on the committee. Jim Jeffords got away with doing it four years ago, although in the context of a razon thing GOP margin. But the Republicans have a sizable enough majority this time that Specter can be stopped.

Update (0903): Sen. Specter has the lead editorial in WSJ today, claiming that he was misquoted and citing supportive comments by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

To resolve any concern that I would block pro-life judicial nominees, take a look at my record. I have consistently opposed any litmus test. I have backed that up by voting to confirm pro-life nominees including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Justice Anthony Kennedy. I led the fight to confirm Justice Clarence Thomas, which almost cost me my Senate seat in 1992. I have voted for all of President Bush’s judicial nominees in committee and on the floor. The current controversy was artificially created by incorrect reporting. I never “warned” the president on anything–and especially not that I’d block pro-life nominees.

Christopher “Spoons” Kanis makes a pretty compelling argument to the contrary.

Update (1302): Tim Perry has even more. (via Sully)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Todd says:

    Specter’s comments to local papers notwithstanding, could this whole flare-up be an elaborate rope-a-dope to get the President’s nominees accepted?

    With all of the outrage, Specter could, during nominating proceedings, make the case that any nominee that he greenlights, passes his “litmus test”, and therefore should be palatable to the more moderate amongst us. Assuming that he does play ball with the president’s nominees, this intra-party battle may actually strengthen Specter’s stance with moderates.

    /takes off tin-foil hat

  2. dw says:

    Of course, Specter could quit or flip parties. I wouldn’t put it past him. As is, this situation has the chance of damaging intraparty relations.

    If I were Frist, I’d be calling Coburn and Thune and telling them to sit down and shut up or kiss the good committee seat openings goodbye.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Unlike the situation in 2004, having Specter (and even Snowe and Chaffee) jump ship might be a good thing. To count them among the number of Republicans, for anything other than voting for the leadership, overstates the party’s clout in the Senate. It’s just a shame that Bush and Santorum didn’t see this coming, actually campaigning for this idiot’s reelection.

  4. Anjin-San says:

    Nice to see somone on the hill is not marching in lock-step…