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WSJ – Longtime Former Sen. Arlen Specter Dies

WSJ – Longtime Former Sen. Arlen Specter Dies


Arlen Specter was a five-term U.S. senator representing Pennsylvania, first as a Republican and then as a Democrat, who won admirers and critics for his independence

and willingness to cross party lines.

Mr. Specter, 82 years old, died Sunday morning at his home in Philadelphia because of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his son Shanin Specter said. Mr. Specter had endured several recent health battles.

A former district attorney, Mr. Specter for years played a prominent role on the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly when putting aggressive questions to Supreme Court nominees and witnesses during confirmation hearings.

Mr. Specter served in the Senate from 1981 to 2011 and was the longest-serving senator from Pennsylvania. For most of those years, he was a centrist Republican, but in early 2009, when a strong GOP primary challenger emerged, Mr. Specter became a Democrat. A year later, a loss in the Democratic primary led to the end of his time in the Senate.

Mr. Specter often changed his political leanings and split his votes between Democrats and Republicans, angering colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He generally supported affirmative action, some gay-rights protections and abortion rights while saying he personally opposed abortion—all typical Democratic positions. He also strongly opposed most gun-control measures, usually a GOP view. Later in his career, Mr. Specter switched sides twice on a bill to ease union organizing, finally telling labor unions that he backed the bill.

In an autobiography that came out earlier this year, Mr. Specter bemoaned the increasing polarization of Washington and primarily faulted his former GOP colleagues and the rise of tea-party activists. “Politics is no longer the art of the possible when senators are intransigent in their positions,” he wrote.

Mr. Specter was born in Wichita, Kan., in 1930. During the Korean War, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1953. He practiced law in Philadelphia and served two terms as the city’s district attorney from 1966 to 1974.

In 1964, he served as assistant counsel on the Warren Commission that investigated President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and he is credited with helping to develop the “single bullet theory.” The theory posited that a single bullet caused multiple wounds to the president and Texas Gov. John Connally and supported the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

Mr. Specter drew criticism in 1991 during the Supreme Court confirmations hearings for Clarence Thomas for his aggressive questioning of Anita Hill, a law professor who said she had been sexually harassed by Mr. Thomas. Mr. Specter accused her of “flat-out perjury.”

In 1999, Mr. Specter criticized Republicans for impeaching President Bill Clinton, arguing the president hadn’t received a fair trial. Once again, he sought to chart his own course, citing Scottish law and casting a vote of “not proved.”

Mr. Specter was diagnosed with a brain tumor twice in the 1990s. Then in 2005, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and continued to work through his chemotherapy treatments, which had left him bald. Sen. John Sununu shaved his head in solidarity. In 2008, Mr. Specter announced that his cancer had returned, and he underwent a second round of chemotherapy.

On Aug. 28, his office confirmed that he was fighting another form of cancer that had been diagnosed six weeks earlier.