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In two newspaper interviews before the election, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter promised to block pro-life and “extremist” judges appointed by President Bush, apparently contradicting claims he is making now amid fierce opposition to his becoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A third paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, endorsed the pro-abortion senator largely because of his anticipated position on the panel.

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Sen. Arlen Specter at town hall meeting (Photo: Williamsport Sun-Gazette)

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board published an endorsement Oct. 24, stating it prized Specter’s independence.

“The best argument for his staying on is his seniority, which puts him in line to be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” the paper said. “In that capacity, he would be in a position to block some of the ideologically extreme federal judges likely to be nominated by President Bush in a second term, some of them for the Supreme Court.”

The editorial then stated: “Before the Post-Gazette editorial board, he promised that no extremists would be approved for the bench.”

In an Oct. 17 story, the Bucks County Courier Times reported: “Specter said he does use his position on the Senate Judiciary Committee – a panel he will probably begin chairing next year if re-elected – to weed out judges who are extreme. He points to Robert Bork, a Ronald Reagan nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I not only voted against Bork, I led the charge against him,” Specter said.

The Courier Times said, “Specter’s distaste for Bork has everything to do with the Midwestern Republican values he was exposed to growing up in Kansas.”

In a phone call yesterday to Sean Hannity’s radio talk show, Bork described Specter as “particularly deceptive,” charging the senator “votes in a very liberal fashion until he gets close to an election. And then he begins to vote in a conservative fashion.”

The Inquirer endorsed Specter saying, “Preserving the legality of abortion plays no small part in this decision.”

“Sometime in the next four years, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee will very likely find himself in the pivotal role of scrutinizing at least one new Supreme Court nominee,” the paper said. “Assuming that Republicans are in charge of the Senate, it would be better to have the chairman’s seat filled by Specter, who says Roe v. Wade is ‘inviolate’ as the law of the land.”

In Specter’s book “Passion for Truth,” points out Human Events Online, he explained why he resisted Bork’s nomination, which eventually was rejected by the Senate.

“The Constitution has turned out to be much more dynamic than [Bork believes]: a living, growing document, responsive to the needs of the nation,” wrote Specter. “Bork’s narrow approach is dangerous for constitutional government.”

Specter’s Washington office did not respond by press time to WND’s request for comment.

Recently re-elected to a fifth term with the crucial aid of President Bush, Specter is in line to become judiciary chairman in January when Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah steps down due to term-limit rules.

The current controversy began when the Associated Press quoted Specter saying last Wednesday, “When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe vs. Wade, I think that 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.”

After an outburst of outrage from conservative groups, Specter issued a statement Thursday insisting he did not send a warning to Bush.

“I did not warn the president about anything and was very respectful of his constitutional authority on the appointment of federal judges,” Specter said.

“As the record shows, I have supported every one of President Bush’s nominees in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. I have never and would never apply any litmus test on the abortion issue and, as the record shows, I have voted to confirm Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Kennedy and led the fight to confirm Justice Thomas.”

A website named NotSpecter.com emerged last week to help rally the opposition, which includes prominent evangelical Christian groups such as Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and Concern Women for America.

The ABC News weblog The Note reports conservatives against Specter are telephoning Republican leadership offices, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and members of the judiciary committee at a rate of about two to three per minute.

According to rules established by the majority party, the committee chairman will be chosen by a secret-ballot vote of the Republican members of the panel. The nod traditionally goes to the senior member, but the rules specify any member can be selected. The entire conference must then approve the committee’s pick by another secret ballot, although rejection is rare.

Specter, who says he joined the GOP in his first election race in 1965 because it offered more support than the Democrats, has a lifetime rating of 43 out of 100 from the American Conservative Union. By comparison, his Pennsylvania Republican colleague Sen. Rick Santorum has a rating of 87.

But Santorum has come to Specter’s defense, while seeking assurance he will abide by the president’s wishes.

But in its Oct. 17 story, the Bucks County paper reported Specter, responding to charges he had veered “far to the right,” said he has never abandoned his position as a “centrist.”

Specter then explained how the substantial help he received from Bush and Santorum in the primary, which he won by just 1 percent, related to his stances on issues.

“I was appreciative of the help of the president and Sen. Santorum. No doubt their help was a key factor in my success,” he said. “In key matters I have never deviated. People think because I had so much help from the president and Rick that I deviated and I haven’t.”

Monday, Santorum predicted the controversy would pass, calling it a result of “Arlen being Arlen,” the Post-Gazette reported.

“I would say it was probably not the best time for him to have made those remarks,” Santorum said. “But I think he quickly clarified those remarks.”

Santorum said Specter “told the president directly that he would get his nominees.”

Related story:

Movement arises to block Specter

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