Arlen Specter Dies; He Was Pennsylvania’s Longest-Serving Senator
Former senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s most durable political figures, who during three decades in the Senate became known for his command of constitutional law, died of cancer Oct. 14 at his home in Philadelphia. He was 82.
His son Shanin Specter confirmed his death to the Associated Press.
Sen. Specter was long a voice of Republican moderation, but he handed Democrats a supermajority in the Senate by switching parties in 2009. He lost the Democratic primary the next year in an anti-incumbency movement that swept many veteran politicians from office. He had also exposed himself to charges of political opportunism by changing his party allegiance.
As a young Philadelphia prosecutor, he first gained national attention as assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, which investigated the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was the chief architect of the commission’s controversial “single-bullet theory,” which held that the same bullet that killed Kennedy also wounded then-Texas Gov. John Connally.
Sen. Specter parlayed the exposure he received on the commission into a political career, first as a combative and outspoken Philadelphia district attorney and then as a five-term U.S. senator.
Arriving on Capitol Hill in 1981, he became a dominant force during the Judiciary Committee’s rancorous Supreme Court nomination battles. More than anyone else, he helped defeat conservative nominee Robert Bork in 1987, and his aggressive questioning of law professor Anita Hill four years later — he accused her of “flat-out perjury” — helped secure Clarence Thomas’s confirmation.
Sen. Specter was respected for his well-prepared and persuasive arguments that were rooted in the law, with little regard for political expediency. He sided with liberals on some divisive issues and with conservatives on others, leaving him with little support on either ends of the spectrum.
He consistently drew challenges from the left and the right in his centrist state, and his career was marked by narrow victories. But Sen. Specter, never a natural politician, was savvy on the stump, somehow always finding a way to win.
“I had a rocky road getting here,” he once said, “and I’m going to do my damnedest to stay here.”