Joe Sestak's campaign is circulating a memo today attacking Sen. Arlen Specter on one of the two issues closest to his heart -- The Supreme Court. (The other is National Institutes of Health.) The former Philadelphia DA has been on the Judiciary Committee since he arrived in the Senate in 1981 and has had a hand in the confirmations of eight of the Court's nine members. The ninth, 89-year-old John Paul Stevens, is considering retirement but Specter has said he would like him to stick around because a confirmation fight for a new justice would be difficult in the current political environment.
The Sestak campaign, however, is ascribing ulterior motives to that statement: "It is far more likely is that Specter, who touts his role in shaping the Court, doesn’t want any actual scrutiny on his record. A Supreme Court fight might draw inconvenient attention to Specter’s central role in the rightward swing of the court," spokesman Jonathon Dworkin wrote in an email to reporters.
He cites Specter's tough questioning of Anita Hill, who accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, and which nearly cost Specter re-election in 1992 against Lynn Yeakel. Also, Specter made a deal with Republicans leaders in order to assume the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee in 2004, signaling that he would provide President George W. Bush's nominees quick hearings and votes and he assumed any of them would be qualified. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito were confirmed under Specter's watch.
Dworkin cites "his role, as Chairman, in giving us Justice Alito, the right-wing, activist Roberts Court, and the disastrous Citizens United ruling," and notes that in the likely case Democrats lose seats in the Senate this year a confirmation fight will be even harder in 2011.
But the memo leaves out the controversy Specter uses to balance out his Supreme Court history. He was a key Republican vote against the candidacy of Robert Bork in 1987, who probably would have become one of the stiffer conservatives on the Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the ballyhooed swing vote, was appointed instead of Bork.