How important was Arlen Specter in getting John Roberts and Sam Alito confirmed? According to Rick Santorum and my friend Jeff Lord, very important. And credit where it’s due: Specter kept his word and voted for the Bush nominees as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. He helped get them confirmed. Historically, Specter was clearly the difference-maker for both good (Clarence Thomas) and ill (Robert Bork).
But even assuming Pat Toomey went on to lose the general election in 2004, Republicans still would have controlled 54 Senate seats and the Judiciary Committee. In 2005, John Roberts was confirmed 78 to 22. Unless you believe that Specter swung half the Senate Democrats to Roberts, there is a good chance he would have been confirmed even by a Specter-free Senate.
The vote on Sam Alito was closer, 58-42. The four Democrats who voted to confirm Alito were from red states. Maybe Specter swung Robert Byrd? He didn’t swing Lincoln Chafee, the liberal Republican who voted no. But there, the real game-changer was the cloture vote. Alito could have been filibustered and maybe Specter stopped it. But it’s worth noting that the cloture motion also passed 72 to 25. Even acknowledging Specter’s influence on moderate Democrats and tenacity in committee hearings, did he really seal the deal for Alito?
UPDATE: Specter denies offering any assurances on judges and otherwise demonstrates ingratitude to Santorum.