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Arlen J. Specter (February 12, 1930 – October 14, 2012) was a United States Senator from Pennsylvania. Specter was a Democrat from 1951 to 1965, then a Republican from 1965 until 2009, when he switched back to the Democratic Party. First elected in 1980, he represented his state for 30 years in the Senate. Specter was a moderate who staked out a spot in the political center.
Specter was born in Wichita, Kansas, to emigrant Russian Jewish parents. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and served with the United States Air Force during the Korean War. Specter later graduated from Yale Law School and opened a law firm with Marvin Katz, who would later become a federal judge. Specter served as assistant counsel for the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy and helped devise the "single bullet theory". In 1965, Specter was elected District Attorney of Philadelphia, a position that he would hold until he lost his re-election bid in 1973.
On April 28, 2009, Specter announced that, after 44 years as an elected Republican, he was switching membership to the Democratic Party. On May 18, 2010, Specter was defeated in the Democratic primary by Joe Sestak, who then lost to Pat Toomey in the general election. Toomey succeeded Specter on January 3, 2011.
In Fall 2011, Specter was an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he taught a course on the relationship between Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, focusing on separation of powers and the confirmation process. For this course the National Jurist named him as one of the "23 professors to take before you die". Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in early 2005, he continued his work in the Senate while undergoing chemotherapy before his death on October 14, 2012.
Specter was born in Wichita, Kansas, the youngest child of Lillie (née Shanin) and Harry Specter, who grew up in the Bachkuryne village of Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine. Specter was Jewish, and wrote in his memoir, Passion for Truth, that his father's family was the only Jewish family in the village. The family lived at 940 South Emporia Street in Wichita before moving to Russell, Kansas, where he graduated from Russell High School in 1947. Russell is also the hometown of fellow politician Bob Dole (who graduated from Russell High School in 1941). Specter said that his father weighed items from his junkyard on a scale owned by Dole's father Doran Dole (who owned a granary). He said his brother Morton and Dole's brother Kenny were contemporaries and friends.
Specter's father served in the U.S. infantry during World War I, and was badly wounded. During the Great Depression, Specter's father was a fruit peddler, a tailor, and a junkyard owner. After graduating from Russell High School, Arlen Specter studied first at the University of Oklahoma. He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, majored in international relations, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1951. While at Penn, Specter was a member of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. Specter said the family moved to Philadelphia when his sister Shirley was of a marriageable age because there were no other Jews in Russell.
During the Korean War, he served stateside in the United States Air Force from 1951 to 1953 and obtained the rank of Second Lieutenant within the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
In 1953, he married Joan Levy. In 1979, she was elected to one of the two allotted minority party at-large seats on the Philadelphia City Council. She held the seat for four terms, until she was defeated for re-election in 1995 by Frank Rizzo, Jr.. The couple had two sons. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1956, Specter opened a law practice, Specter & Katz, with Marvin Katz, who served as a Federal District Court Judge in Philadelphia until his death in October 2010. Specter became an assistant district attorney under District Attorney James C. Crumlish, Jr., and was a member of the Democratic Party.
Early political career
At the recommendation of Representative Gerald Ford, he worked for the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As an assistant counsel for the commission, he co-authored the "single bullet theory", which suggested the non-fatal wounds to Kennedy and wounds to Texas Governor John Connally were caused by the same bullet. This was a crucial assertion for the Warren Commission, since if the two had been wounded by separate bullets within such a short time frame, that would have demonstrated the presence of a second assassin and therefore a conspiracy.
Specter reproducing the assumed alignment of the single bullet theory
Numerous authors have raised doubts over the plausibility of the theory, while others have upheld it. A further investigation by the House Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s reaffirmed the single bullet theory.
Seeks political office
In 1965, Specter ran for Philadelphia district attorney against his former boss, incumbent James C. Crumlish, Jr. The city's Democratic leaders did not want Specter as their candidate, so he switched parties and ran as a Republican, prompting Crumlish to call him "Benedict Arlen". Specter defeated Crumlish by 36,000 votes. Although a supporter of capital punishment, as prosecutor he questioned the fairness of the Pennsylvania death penalty statute in 1972.
In 1967, he was the Republican Party standard bearer, together with City Controller candidate, Tom Gola, in the Philadelphia mayoral campaign against the Democratic incumbent James Tate. One of their slogans was, "We need THESE guys to watch THOSE guys" and "They're younger, they're tougher, and nobody owns them!" He served two terms as district attorney for the city of Philadelphia, but was handily defeated in his bid for a third term in 1973 by noted criminal defense attorney Emmett Fitzpatrick.
In 1976, Specter ran in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and was defeated by John Heinz. In 1978, he was defeated in the primary for Governor of Pennsylvania by Dick Thornburgh. After several years in private practice with the Philadelphia law firm Dechert, Price & Rhoads, Specter ran again for the U.S. Senate in 1980 and won. He assumed office in January 1981.
ntal, sale, marketing, and financing of the nation's housing. The amendment strengthened the ability of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity to enforce the Fair Housing Act and expanded the protected classes to include disabled persons and families with children. In 1998 and 1999, Specter criticized the Republican Party for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Believing that Clinton had not received a fair trial, Specter cited Scots law to render a verdict of "not proven" on Clinton's impeachment. However, his verdict was recorded as "not guilty" in the Senate records.
On October 11, 2002, Arlen Specter voted in favor of H.J.Res.114 authorizing the Iraq War.
In a 2002 PoliticsPA Feature story designating politicians with yearbook superlatives, he was named the "Toughest to Work For". In 2003, the Pennsylvania Report, a subscription-based political newsletter, described Specter as one of the "vanishing breed of Republican moderates" and described his political stance as "'Pennsylvania first' middle of-the-road politics" even though he was known as an "avid Republican partisan".
Soon after the 2004 election, Specter stepped into the public spotlight as a result of controversial statements about his views of the future of the Supreme Court. At a press conference, he stated:
“ When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think [confirmation] is unlikely. The president is well aware of what happened, when a number of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster.... And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning. ”
Activist groups interpreted his comments as warnings to President George W. Bush about the implications of nominating Supreme Court justices who are opposed to the Roe v. Wade decision. Specter maintained his comments were a prediction, not a warning. He met with many conservative Republican senators, and based on assurances he gave them, he was recommended for the Judiciary Committee's chairmanship in late 2004. He officially assumed that position when the 109th Congress convened on January 4, 2005.
On March 9, 2006, the USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law. It amended the process for interim appointments of U.S. Attorneys, a clause Specter wrote during his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The change allowed the Bush Administration to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without term limits, and without confirmation by the Senate. The Bush administration used the law to place at least eight interim attorneys into office in 2006. Specter claimed that the changes were added by staff member Brett Tolman. For more information, see dismissal of U.S. Attorneys controversy.
Specter was very critical of Bush's wiretapping of U.S. citizens without warrants. When the story first broke, he called the effort "inappropriate" and "clearly and categorically wrong". He said, he intended to hold hearings into the matter early in 2006, and had Alberto Gonzales appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer for the program (although Specter declined to force Gonzales to testify under oath). On January 15, 2006, Specter mentioned impeachment and criminal prosecution as potential remedies if Bush broke the law, though he downplayed the likelihood of such an outcome.
On April 9, 2006, speaking on Fox News about the Bush administration's leaking of classified intelligence, Specter stated: "The president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people". However, he voted for the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which placed federal electronic searches almost entirely within the executive branch.
During the 2007–2008 National Football League season, Specter wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell concerning the destruction of New England Patriots Spygate tapes, wondering if there was a link between the tapes and their Super Bowl victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. On February 1, 2008, Goodell stated that the tapes were destroyed because "they confirmed what I already knew about the issue". Specter released a follow up statement:
“ My strong preference is for the NFL to activate a Mitchell-type investigation, I have been careful not to call for a Congressional hearing because I believe the NFL should step forward and embrace an independent inquiry and Congress is extraordinarily busy on other matters. If the NFL continues to leave a vacuum, Congress may be tempted to fill it. ”
Starting in 2007, Specter sponsored legislation to fix a longstanding inequity in American law that shuts out a majority of U.S. Armed Forces service members from equal access to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2007, Specter cosponsored the Equal Justice for United States Military Personnel Act of 2007 with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). The bill failed in the 110th Congress, and Specter again cosponsored the measure in the 2009 111th Congress. In December 2008, Specter was involved in a controversy as a result of telling "Polish jokes" at New York's Rainbow Room while speaking at the annual meeting of the Commonwealth Club.
Specter voted in favor of the Senate's version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on February 10, 2009; he was one of only three Republicans to break ranks with the party and support the bill, which was favored by President Barack Obama and was unanimously supported by the Democratic senators. As a result of his support, many in the Republican mainstream began calling for his removal from office.
Specter was instrumental in ensuring that the act allocated an additional $10 billion to the National Institutes of Health over the next two years. Since becoming a Democrat in the Senate, Specter has been denied seniority on Senate committees.
In October 2009, Specter called for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which he supported in 1996. In November 2009, Specter introduced a bill to require televising U.S. Supreme Court proceedings, and explained "[t]he Supreme Court makes pronouncements on constitutional and federal law that have direct impacts on the rights of Americans. Those rights would be substantially enhanced by televising the oral arguments of the Court so that the public can see and hear the issues presented."
Specter's career in the United States Senate ended on January 3, 2011, after his primary defeat to Joe Sestak. He was succeeded by Pat Toomey, who won the general election against Sestak.
Specter held the following committee assignments:
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee on Homeland Security
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Children's Health
Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights
Subcommittee on the Constitution
Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs (Chair)
Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Special Committee on Aging
Specter was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1995, when the Republicans gained control of the Senate, until 1997, when he became chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs. He chaired that committee until 2001 and again from 2003 to 2005, during the times the Republicans controlled the Senate. He also chaired the Judiciary Committee from 2005 to 2007.
In 1980, Specter became the Republican nominee for Senate when Republican incumbent Richard Schweiker announced his retirement. He faced the former Mayor of Pittsburgh, Pete Flaherty. Specter won the election by a 2.5% margin. He was later reelected in 1986, 1992, 1998, and 2004, despite 1992 and 1998 being bad years for Republicans. Specter ran for reelection in 2010, for the first time as a Democrat, but was defeated in the Primary.
1996 presidential bid
Main article: United States presidential election, 1996
On March 31, 1995, Specter announced his candidacy for President of the United States, to challenge the incumbent Bill Clinton. He entered the race claiming his party needed a candidate who did not conform to the stereotypical religious conservative image. He was critical of Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed, saying all three were far too conservative.
His campaign focused on balancing the federal budget, strict crime laws, and establishing relations with North Korea. His candidacy was not expected to succeed in winning the Republican nomination due to the overwhelmingly large number of social conservatives in the Republican Party. He was, however, able to gain support. Although fellow Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was never overly enthusiastic, he was supportive. Other supportive Republicans were hopeful Specter could trim the party's "far-right fringe". Although his campaign was ultimately unsuccessful at wooing conservatives, it was widely believed he could have had a strong showing among independents. On November 23, 1995, before the start of the primaries, Specter suspended his campaign to endorse Kansas Senator Bob Dole.
Main article: United States Senate election in Pennsylvania, 2004
In 2004, Specter faced a challenge in the Republican primary election from conservative Congressman Pat Toomey, whose campaign theme was that Specter was not fiscally conservative enough. The match-up was closely watched nationally, being seen as a symbolic clash between the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party. However, most of the state and national Republican establishment, including the state's other senator at the time, Rick Santorum closed ranks behind Specter. Specter was supported by President George W. Bush. Specter narrowly avoided a major upset with 51% of the primary vote. Once Specter defeated the challenge from the right, he was able to enjoy great support from independents and some Democrats in his race against Hoeffel. Hoeffel trailed Specter in name recognition, campaign funds and poll results. Although the two minor candidates were seen as more conservative than Specter, they were only able to take 4% of the vote and Specter was easily reelected.
Main articles: United States Senate election in Pennsylvania, 2010 and United States Senate Democratic primary election in Pennsylvania, 2010
Specter was up for re-election to the Senate in 2010, and expressed his plans to run again. On March 18, 2009, Specter said that he was not considering running as an independent. He said, "To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican, and I am running for reelection in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket." Subsequently Specter's 2004 conservative GOP primary challenger, Pat Toomey, announced he would again run for the Republican nomination in the Republican senatorial primary.
However, on April 28, 2009, Specter stated that "As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party." He said that he was switching party affiliation and would run as a Democrat in the 2010 election.
In the same announcement, Specter also said that he had "surveyed the sentiments of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and public opinion polls, observed other public opinion polls and have found that the prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak". A March 2009 Quinnipiac poll indicated that Specter trailed his likely primary challenger, Pat Toomey, by 14% (41% for Toomey, 27% for Specter). Additional polling found that 70% of Pennsylvania Republicans disapproved of his vote in favor of the Stimulus Bill and that 52 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans disapproved of the job he was doing. Following Specter's switching parties, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele criticized his leaving the Republican Party, claiming that Specter had "flipped the bird" at the GOP.
On February 6, 2010, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party overwhelmingly endorsed U.S. Senator Arlen Specter at the Democratic State Committee's annual endorsement convention, which was held in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He defeated Joe Sestak, winning more than 77% of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee members vote, far in excess of the 2/3 threshold needed to claim the endorsement. Sestak, however, went on to win the Democratic primary nomination on May 18.
According to the National Journal, Specter voted with Democrats 90% of the time after switching parties, while, as a Republican, he split his votes between both parties. According to fivethirtyeight.com, during January–March 2009 Specter voted with the Democrats 58% of the time. Following the support of the stimulus package and the entrance of Pat Toomey in the Republican primary, Specter began to vote 16% with Democrats. When switching to become a Democrat, he voted 69% with his new party initially, until Joe Sestak entered the Democratic primary and Specter started to vote 97% of the time.
Specter stated that he is "personally opposed to abortion", but is "a supporter of a woman's right to choose". He received a 20% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2005 based on certain votes related to the regulation of abortion; in 2008, he received 100%.
Specter supported some LGBT rights. He voted to prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and was a co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Specter was opposed to same-sex marriage, but was also opposed to a federal ban and supported civil unions. Specter voted in favor of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress.
Specter strongly opposed most gun control, voting against the Brady Bill, background checks at gun shows, the ban on assault weapons, and trigger locks for handguns.
He supported affirmative action and voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1991, receiving a 76 percent rating from the NAACP in 2008.
He was one of only four Republicans to vote against the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act and in his later years was less enthusiastic about weakening consumer protection laws than many members of his party.
Tax cuts and minimum wage
In 1995 he was the only Republican to vote to limit tax cuts to individuals with incomes of less than one million dollars. He voted against CAFTA. Specter also supported an increase in the federal minimum wage. He was a leading supporter of the U.S. Public Service Academy.
On immigration, Specter supported a "pathway to citizenship" and a "guest worker program", which opponents call amnesty. He introduced Senate bill S. 2611 (the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006) on April 6, 2006, which was passed by the Senate on May 25, 2006 before reaching a stalemate in the House.
Health care reform
On May 3, 2009 Specter went on Meet the Press and was asked "Would you support health care reform that puts up a government run public plan to compete with a private plan issued by a private insurance company?" Specter said no. Two months later, he changed his position.
Specter believed a single-payer healthcare system should not be "taken off the table", according to an interview he had with John King on CNN.
On health care reform, Specter was a cosponsor of the Healthy Americans Act, a proposal he supported during both the 110th and 111th Congresses. Specter voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the healthcare bill passed through the Senate by every Democratic senator, on a party-line vote.
Specter has received a 61% rating from the AFL-CIO. He voted for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007. In early 2009, Specter announced he would not be voting for cloture on the same act in the 111th Congress. After Specter switched parties, he changed his position on the issue again, and wrote a letter to the unions indicating he supported card check legislation.
Spurred by the 2010 Robbins v. Lower Merion School District case, in which two high schools admitted to secretly taking 66,000 webcam photos and screenshots of students in their homes on school-issued laptops, Specter held a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs on March 29, 2010. He said: "The issue is one of surreptitious eavesdropping. Unbeknownst to people, their movements and activities were under surveillance." Specter said he believes existing wiretap and video-voyeurism statutes do not adequately address concerns in today's era of widespread use of cell-phone, laptop, and surveillance cameras. He said that Lower Merion's use of laptop cameras for surveillance convinced him that new federal legislation was needed to regulate electronic privacy.
Specter then introduced legislation in April 2010 to amend the federal Wiretap Act to clarify that it is illegal to capture silent visual images inside another person's home. He said: "This is going to become law. You have a very significant invasion of privacy with these webcams, as more information is coming to light." Speaking on the floor of the Senate, he said:
Many of us expect to be subject to ... video surveillance when we leave our homes and go out each day—at the ATM, at traffic lights, or in stores, for example. What we do not expect is to be under visual surveillance in our homes, in our bedrooms, and, most especially, we do not expect it for our children in our homes.
The Jewish daily newspaper The Forward reported in the wake of the July 2009 organ trafficking scandal in the U.S. involving Rabbi Levy Izhak Rosenbaum of Brooklyn that an Organ Trafficking Prohibition Act of 2009, sponsored by Specter, had yet to be officially introduced in the U.S.
Specter criticized the federal government's policy on cancer, stating the day after Jack Kemp—the 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee and former congressman—died of cancer, that Kemp would still be alive if the federal government had done a better job funding cancer research.
Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy at Philadelphia University
On December 21, 2011, former Senator Arlen Specter donated to Philadelphia University nearly 2,700 boxes of historical papers and memorabilia dating from his career as a Philadelphia district attorney to his service as a United States senator, including materials associated with his role as assistant counsel on the Warren Commission. The Specter Collection will support The Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy at Philadelphia University.
The Center will be a nonpartisan initiative dedicated to promoting greater understanding of public policy issues both foreign and domestic. The Center will strive to accomplish these goals through support for research, educational programming, and exhibitions inspired, in part, by the senator's career and the permanent collection of his historic papers. The Center will be managed by the Paul J. Gutman Library at Philadelphia University will be located in Roxboro House, which is located nearby on campus.
Parts of Roxboro House date back to 1799. The Georgian period house constructed of frame and clapboard was expanded in 1810. At one point in its history, Roxboro House was owned by Dr. Caspar Wistar who published the first American textbook of anatomy in 1811. Wistar was president of the American Philosophical Society and his friend, Thomas Nuttall, a famous botanist, named the Wisteria vine after him. In 1965 the Philadelphia Historical Commission added this house to its list of registered buildings (No. 141). Prior to the University's purchase of the property in 1998, the house was being used as a bed and breakfast establishment.
Illness and death
On February 16, 2005, Specter announced that he had been diagnosed with an advanced form of Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer. Despite this, Specter continued working during chemotherapy. He ended treatment on July 22. Senator John Sununu (R-NH) shaved his head to show solidarity with Specter, who was temporarily bald while undergoing chemotherapy. On April 15, 2008, Specter announced his cancer had returned, at a stage "significantly less advanced than his Hodgkin's disease when it was originally diagnosed in 2005". He underwent a second round of chemotherapy, which ended on July 14, 2008.
On August 28, 2012, it was announced that Specter was battling a "serious form of cancer" and hospitalized. He was diagnosed six weeks earlier with a new form of the disease. On September 7, 2012, he was released from a Philadelphia hospital, but was expected to return there for additional treatment.
Specter died from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, aged 82, on October 14, 2012, at his home in Philadelphia. Funeral arrangements are forthcoming. Statements of condolence were issued by President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President and Mrs. Biden, the Office of the Governor of Pennsylvania, and by many of his colleagues and former opponents in the U.S. Congress, the Pennsylvania legislature, and the city of Philadelphia, among many others. Senator Specter, while he had been accused of alienating both parties due to certain positions he took and due to the two times he switched parties, among other issues, was nonetheless respected by many as a principled statesman who did much for his state and country, including by those in politics and the legislature, both in Pennsylvania and his home state, Kansas, as well as across the U.S. and beyond. He was the longest-serving of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senators, and it was said that he had done more for the state than anyone else, with the possible exception of Benjamin Franklin himself. As a sign of this respect and out of mourning, President Obama ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff at public institutions and military bases in Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country on his day of interment.