Former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter passed away today after a long battle with cancer. He was 82.
Born in Kansas, his family eventually settled in Philadelphia. After serving in the Korean War, Specter attended Yale Law School graduating in 1956.
Specter first attracted attention as an attorney for the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President Kennedy. He was partially responsible for devising the “single bullet theory”.
After a lengthy stint as Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Specter sought the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1976 but was bested by John Heinz. Four years later, however, he garned the GOP nomination and rode the Reagan wave into office in November 1980.
Specter was at odds with more conservative members of his party for much of his tenure. He played a significant role in thwarting Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court. However, he strongly defended Clarence Thomas and was particularly sharp in his questioning of Anita Hill during Thomas’ confirmation hearings. He also clashed with President Bush concerning Supreme Court nominees and other matters although when Specter was challenged in the 2004 GOP primary by Pat Toomey, he strongly backed Specter. After his re-election, Specter saw to it that both the nominations of Samuel Alito and John Roberts were confirmed in his role as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
However, Republican patience with Specter wore thin when he supported President Obama’s Stimulus Bill. Pat Toomey once again announced he would challenge Specter in the 2010 GOP primary. Realizing he would not prevail, Specter switched back to the Democratic Party (he started out as a Democrat). However, he would be successfully challenged for the Democratic nomination by Congressman Joe Sestak (who subsequently was defeated by Toomey in the 2010 mid-terms). This ended Specter’s three decade long tenure in the U.S. Senate.
Specter was amongst the few Jewish Republicans in Congress and for many years was the lone Jewish Republican in Congress.