Specter, Arlen

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SPECTER, ARLEN (1930– ), U.S. senator, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Spector was born in Kansas, the son of Russian immigrants. His family moved to Russell, Kansas, the home town of another United States senator, Robert Dole. Specter was educated at the University of Oklahoma, and transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. (1951). He was in the Air Force from 1951 to 1953 during the Korean War. He returned to attend Yale Law School, where he edited the law journal and graduated in 1956.

He served as assistant district attorney in Philadelphia as a Democrat from 1959 to 1963 and then went to Washington, where he was assistant counsel to the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. *Kennedy. He devised the single bullet theory, contending that one bullet hit the president and Texas Governor John Connally, who was riding in the limousine and was also wounded. He sought the Democratic nomination for district attorney but was rebuffed by the Democratic machine so he ran as a Republican reform candidate and won an upset victory. He narrowly lost the race for mayor of Philadelphia the next year. He served for eight years as district attorney and then suffered a series of political losses that ordinarily doom a political candidate. Specter lost a race for district attorney in 1973; he lost for the U.S. Senate in 1976 and lost for governor in 1978. He won the 1980 race in the Reagan landslide and then proceeded to vote against the Reagan Administration more often than any other Republican senator.

He played a major role during the Iran-Contra hearing, where his talent as a cross examiner came into play again. He concluded that the intelligence system was in need of an overhaul and proposed the creation of an inspector general of the cia. His role on the Senate Judiciary Committee was controversial vis-à-vis his Republican colleagues. He voted against Robert Bork for the Supreme Court. He was an ardent defender of Judge Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court and an intense interrogator of Anita Hill, whom he accused of perjury. His performance did not endear him to women. In 1996 he was a candidate for president, but withdrew before the first primary as it was clear that the Republican Party was not going to nominate a pro-choice Republican moderate. After Orrin Hatch completed his six years as chairman, Specter was in line to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a move opposed by some Republican colleagues, who were fearful of his moderation and his support of abortion. He further enraged his colleagues by warning the administration not to appoint someone who was going to overturn Roe v. Wade. He was forced to clarify – some say disavow – his statement. Surrounded by his Republican Judiciary Committee colleagues, he said: "I have no reason to believe that I will be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy." In addition to tackling the major legislative business before the Senate in 2005, Specter also engaged in a personal battle with Stage ivb Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer. He underwent nearly five months of chemotherapy but still maintained all of his senatorial duties, including chairing hearings, voting, and brokering important legislative initiatives. On July 22, 2005, Specter received his last chemotherapy treatment and subsequently received a clean bill of health.

In 2005 and early 2006 his leadership was tested in the nomination of John Roberts to be chief justice of the Supreme Court, the nomination and withdrawal of nomination of Harriet Miers, and finally the nomination of Samuel Alito as associate justice. His wife, Joan, is a former City Council member in Philadelphia.


K.F. Stone, The Congressional Minyan: The Jews of Capitol Hill (2000); L.S. Maisels and I. Forman (eds.), Jews in American Politics (2001).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]