Judiciary Quandary . . . and Cause

Article excerpt


Sen. Arlen Specter has not earned elevation to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will stand at the commanding heights of the Republican Party agenda during President George W. Bush's second term. Three major tasks will confront the chairman: confirming Supreme Court nominees; ending unconstitutional filibusters that thwart judicial confirmations by simple majorities; and, passing legislation to strengthen the president's power to wage war against global terrorism. In all these respects, Mr. Specter is not the superior choice. The chairmanship should crown a senator whose loyalties to the Republican Party mainstream are unwavering and enthusiastic.

Mr. Specter's seniority on the Judiciary Committee does not establish a legal or moral right to the chairmanship during the forthcoming Congress. Senate Republicans could extend the term of incumbent chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, for two years. Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, might also be bypassed by Republicans sitting on the Judiciary Committee or by the 55-member Senate Republican conference. The four Republican seats gained Nov. 2 plus Mr. Specter's narrow primary election victory over conservative Rep. Pat Toomey shows that the Pennsylvania solon is more the caboose than the locomotive of the Republican Party train. His views on abortion, racial or ethnic preferences, church-state relations, the Patriot Act and presidential war powers clash with majority Republican Party thinking and central themes of President Bush's campaign. To reward Mr. Specter with the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee would dishonor the sentiments of the American people voiced through the ballot box.

President Bush has pledged to appoint Supreme Court Justices in the mold of Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Mr. Specter adamantly opposed the confirmation of President Ronald Reagan's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Robert H. Bork, who was both a philosophical model for Justices Scalia and Thomas and the most intellectually dazzling candidate since the appointment of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in 1930. Judge Bork and Justice Scalia voted virtually identically in approximately 400 cases when sitting as judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Mr. Specter has enjoyed 17 years to voice repentance or regret over his role in defeating Judge Bork. But he has not retracted anything he said or did against the nominee, who fit President Bush's ideal justice like a glove. Even if Mr. Specter desisted from opposing Bork-like nominees, he would neglect to champion their confirmations as Judiciary Committee chairman through effusive praise, the selection and timing of witnesses at televised hearings, or by arm twisting ala Lyndon B. Johnson.

The importance of a single Supreme Court appointment cannot be overstated. …