Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the current head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, predicts Arlen Specter will succeed him as chairman of the panel, despite controversy over comments made by the Pennsylvania Republican.

Sen. Arlen Specter greets President Bush in Harrisburg, Pa., during campaign.

“I’m for Arlen,” Hatch said yesterday after emerging from a closed-door meeting with fellow committee Republicans. “I believe he will be a great chairman. … I expect him to have the support of the committee.”

With Specter at his side, Hatch told reporters the Pennsylvanian had broad support among lawmakers.

“Nobody in the meeting was against Arlen,” Hatch said. “Senator Specter handled himself very well and frankly, I’m for him, as I should be.”

Specter was grateful for Hatch’s support, saying, “No chickens have hatched, and I don’t count any chickens until they’re hatched. But with Hatch beside me, I’m a little less unconfident.”

It’s the Judiciary Committee which screens White House nominations to the Supreme Court and other posts on the federal bench.

As WorldNetDaily previously reported, controversial remarks by Specter, cautioning President Bush against nominating Supreme Court justices who would overturn the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision, sparked a furious outcry from Bush’s large conservative and Evangelical support base, and spawned a movement to ensure he did not ascend to the panel’s chairmanship.

In two newspaper interviews before the election, Specter promised to block pro-life and “extremist” judges appointed by Bush, contradicting claims he is making now amid fierce opposition.

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

The current controversy began when the Associated Press quoted Specter saying, “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 Concerned 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.

Related stories:

Rabbis, gun owners oppose Specter

Specter promised to block Bush judges

Movement arises to block Specter

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