Specter’s Loyalty Test

Dahlia Lithwick is apoplectic about the rangling over Arlen Specter’s rise to the Judiciary Committee Chairmanship:

It’s easy to forget how radical a document the U.S. Constitution really is. It demands no oath of fealty to the president or even to God. Officeholders swear instead to uphold the strange, ambiguous, open-to-interpretation document that is the Constitution itself. This is a radical notion because it allows for individual judgments about what that Constitution means—and recognizes that sorting that meaning out can sometimes be a messy business.

It’s worth recalling all this, as we are reminded yet again that neither individual judgment nor messiness seems to be tolerated by the current administration. Sen. Arlen Specter saved his seat as the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee by signing a pledge—a pledge that had to be drafted, then redrafted to the specifications of the GOP leadership.

The Framers rather clearly did not envision the evolution of the committee system, organized as it is along party lines. Given that this is in fact the system, however, it’s perfectly reasonable that the Republican majority would want some assurances before putting a dissenting member of its caucus into, arguably, the most important post in the Senate’s leadership. President Bush may well appoint three or four members to the Supreme Court, and probably hundreds to the lower courts, over the next four years. Having one man thwart the will of the American people, as expressed in several consecutive elections now, would have been much more cause for alarm.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, , , ,
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. bryan says:

    Hmm. It seems that the reason Specter had to sign a “pledge” was because he had suggested that he had his own sort of “pledge” or “litmus test” that he would have for potential nominees.

    It’s hypocritical to suggest Specter is some sort of martyr in all this.

  2. McGehee says:

    I suspect Specter was perfectly happy to sign. I suspect his narrow win over Toomey in the primary, followed by Daschle’s defeat, and the brouhaha over the AP portrayal of his remarks, have given him a fairly effective lesson in how things stand.

    He likes being a Senator and he wants the chairmanship. Having gotten it, he’d like to keep it.

    I think he’ll behave himself better than he has been.

  3. Anjin-San says:

    On one hand, Spector showed extreamly poor judgment by mouthing off so soon after a big win by the president. On the other, the president’s desire to be surrounded only by faithful lapdogs (such as Rice) and is troubling.

  4. McGehee says:

    Anjin, I get the impression your estimation of Dr. Rice is limited to talking points. She does have a paper trail that goes back a lot farther than her acquaintance with either President Bush.

    It’s entirely possible that she has molded his views on foreign affairs more than vice versa. But I imagine you’d criticize that too.

  5. Anjin-San says:


    Lawrence Eagleburger called Rice a “paper pusher”, (US News & World Report) and says her nomination at state is part of a Bush admin move for “groupthink”. A DNC talking point? Perhaps you have a deeper understanding of the role of SecState than Mr. Eagleburger does…

    She campaigned for Bush in battleground states, breaking the long-standing tradition of a non-partisan national security adivsor. When called on it her office put out a rather lame statement about how she was simply out on the road informing the public about the war on terror.

    Of course she was ONLY informing them in battleground states.

    Rice warned of “mushroom clouds over a US city” being a potential smoking gun for WMD in Iraq when she knew better. That would make her a liar, which makes her well qualified to be a senior Bush admin official.

  6. Bruce H. says:


  7. McGehee says:

    Does it not seem to you, Anjin, that Mr. Eagleburger might be a disappointed would-be SecState? And frankly, your own criticisms of Dr. Rice might get a fairer hearing if we knew something of your background. I post here under my own name.

  8. Anjin-San says:

    LOL, McGehee. Full disclousure indeed. If it make you happy to know, my name is Alan.

    As for Mr. Eagleburger, he is an allready been-there-and-done-that SecState. When people refer to you as “The Eagle” you probably don’t have a lot more to prove.

    Perhaps he just wants to see somebody who can actually pratice diplomacy in this vital job.