Judiciary

Santorum Breaks Silence, Backs Specter for Judiciary Chairmanship

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) joined his GOP colleagues Wednesday in a unanimous vote of support for liberal Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) to become Judiciary Committee chairman.

Ending two months of silence, Santorum told HUMAN EVENTS there was no opposition to Specter at Wednesday’s Republican Conference meeting. A day earlier, all 10 Republican members of the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of Specter, whose bid to become the panel’s chairman was in doubt a mere two months ago.

The controversy stemmed from Specter’s comments after winning election to a fifth term in November. When he was asked to assess President Bush’s prospects for getting judges confirmed by the Senate, Specter said, “When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely.” His answer set off a firestorm of grassroots activity, which eventually forced Specter to make a list of concessions to his GOP colleagues in order to win their backing.

Santorum, meanwhile, declined to offer his support. Even though he supported Specter in Pennsylvania’s general and primary elections in 2004, Santorum said it would be inappropriate for him to offer a public endorsement of the embattled Specter before Republicans on the Judiciary Committee had a chance to vote. At one point, Santorum’s spokesman told HUMAN EVENTS the senator was officially “undecided” on Specter’s bid.

“I don’t want to usurp the power of the committee by making a recommendation one way or the other,” Santorum said at a November 17 press conference. “To me, this is the committee’s decision. Senator Specter is meeting with the committee. He’s discussing the matter with the committee. I think it would be presumptuous of me to direct the committee as to who they should appoint as their chairman. That’s not being silent, that’s being deferential to the process that we have in place and have had in place.”

Specter takes the reigns of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday when he will host a hearing on Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales. Democrats have promised to turn the session into an examination of Gonzales’s legal memos as White House counsel on terrorist detainees. Once the new chairman ushers Gonzalez through the committee, Specter said he plans to tackle asbestos litigation at a January 11 hearing.


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