Jim writes that he doubts Specter was important for passing Sam Alito. As somebody who gained much of my first national notice (such as it was) for being engaged in the judicial wars, I can say fairly confidently that Specter’s support was crucial. (I also was the first person in print, or cyber-print, as far as I can tell, to have written that Alito should be Bush’s choice for the high court — about six months before Sandra Day O’Connor announced she would step down — so I was particularly and intensely engaged in the Alito battle.) The biggest battle wasn’t on the Senate floor, although the threat of a filibuster was real and was much closer to fruition than the raw vote would indicate. Instead, the biggest battle was in committee. Alito won 10-8. Significantly, it was the conduct of those committee hearings that rallied support for Alito to the extent that a filibuster became less likely. Specter conducted that hearing masterfully. He came down as eminently fair to both sides, but fought off Ted Kennedy and others very strongly when they tried to hijack the hearings. Significantly, as Alito was from the same circuit as Pennsylvania, Specter enjoyed particular deference as the NEAR-home-state senator, somebody more than usually familiar with Alito and his record — and more than familiar with the fact that Alito had ruled in the Casey case in a pro-life fashion at odds with Specter’s pro-choice position. All of this inured to Alito’s benefit when Specter announced his support, because Specter carried more than the usual amount of credibility with moderates of both parties. I remember thinking at the time (and I think writing, at the Confirm Them blog) that Specter was the absolutely essential player in the drama, without whom Alito would come come within a hair’s breadth (one or two votes either way on the Senate floor) of not being confirmed.
Santorum could not have known, of course, that Alito would be a S. Court nominee. But he was absolutely right to think that Specter would play a crucial role in confirming anybody who might be nominated, and Santorum was THE go-to guy in the GOP caucus for outside conservative groups to be heard on judges. He was intimately involved in the judicial battles and highly concerned about the subject, which is why his claim about the commitment from Specter rings true. As for Specter’s denials this morning, I find them rather curious. Santorum has been making this claim for years (I reported it 20 months ago right here at TAS), multiple times, and Specter has not disputed it until now, nor has anybody else suggested that the claim is anything but true or believable. Again, knowing of Santorum’s deep involvement in the judge wars, it rings true.
It is also true that Specter opposed not a single qualified Bush judicial nominee for appeals courts either. As the foremost media advocate for 11th Circuit nominee (now judge) Bill Pryor (Ted Kennedy denounced me specifically for my work on the nomination!), I cared more about Pryor’s nomination than about any other one since Clarence Thomas. Again, I know for a fact that Specter was essential to getting Pryor confirmed.
So, say anything you want about what an unlikeable character Arlen Specter is. But Jeff Lord is absolutely right to write that Santorum’s calculations about Specter and judges were wise and on target.
NOTE: I erred originally in IDing Alito as a Pennsylvanian. A big Phillies fan, he neverthelss is from New Jersey, not PA — although as an appellate judge, Pennsylvania was within his jurisdiction and he ruled on some huge cases out of PA. I have now made the correction above. My mistake.