Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Should Arlen Specter be dumped?

The hot topic of discussion in the center-right blogosphere has been whether Senator Arlen Specter should be denied chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee (which would be rightly his under current Senate rules) because of comments he made about pro-life judicial nominees. David Limbaugh makes some good points in this post that are worth reading. Hugh Hewitt has been one of the few bloggers to come out and support Senator Specter remaining the chairman. His posts are here, here, here, and here. Two other bloggers I have tremendous respect for, Stones Cry Out and The Dawn Treader have also come out in support of keeping Senator Specter as the chairman.

I am staunchly pro-life. I would be absolutely overjoyed to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade and end legalized abortion. The truth is that it's not going to happen anytime soon. The makeup of the Court is not such that they are willing to overturn Roe. The best that pro-lifers can hope for is the continued limiting of the number of abortions performed each year. The President summed up the current state of affairs with regards to abortion during the third Presidential debate:

I think it's important to promote a culture of life. I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters. I believe the ideal world is one in which every child is protected in law and welcomed to life. I understand there's great differences on this issue of abortion, but I believe reasonable people can come together and put good law in place that will help reduce the number of abortions.

Our President understands the reality of the abortion debate. At this point, the political and legal reality is that Roe vs. Wade, for better or worse, is still the law of the land. However, that does not mean that we cannot endeavor to limit the number of abortions performed as much as possible.

It's also important to remember that President Bush will have an opportunity to reshape this court during his second term in office. Justice Rehnquist's health is now questionable. Justice O'Connor is rumored to be ready to retire. Justice Stevens may also choose to retire. That makes three possible openings including the Chief Justice's position where President Bush will have the opportunity to nominate replacements. In other words, President Bush may have an opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court for years to come.

In the rush to try to dump Specter, conservatives are forgetting that they are not in the majority. Pro-lifers have also been quick to jump on the dump Specter bandwagon, too. But pro-lifers are not in the majority, either. There are a number of Republicans in both the House and Senate are neither conservative nor pro-life. But their votes are just as important.

For the first time in recent history, Republicans hold a sizeable majority in the Senate. But in order for them to be able to make any significant legislative accomplishments they will still have to recruit a handful of Democrats (in addition to keeping their own caucus in line) in order to avoid filibusters.

I would certainly prefer to have someone other than Senator Specter as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I can think of a number of other Senators who would be a better choice. However, the damage that would be done by dumping Senator Specter would be far greater than any benefit that would be gained by replacing him. I believe in the end that Senator Specter will work with President Bush and continue to support his nominees, especially if this exchange with Judy Woodruff on Inside Politics yesterday isn't simply spin:

WOODRUFF: Have you heard from, in the storm of criticism and we know now they are actively gearing up to block your move to become chairman, are you able to have a conversation with some of these folks who are really upset with you still?

SPECTER: Sure. I've had a lot of conversations and when I point out to them what the facts are the going gets easier. When I point out to them that I've never had a litmus test, that I voted for Chief Justice Rehnquist to confirm him and that's long after he wrote against Roe v. Wade, that I voted to confirm Justice Scalia and Justice O'Connor and Justice Kennedy and I almost lost my seat, I led the fight to confirm Justice Thomas and I almost lost my seat as a result of it in the United States Senate. And every one of President Bush's nominees I have supported in the committee and on the floor. Listen, Judy, those are the facts. It so happens that I'm pro choice. The only pro choice Republican on the committee. But I don't make the decisions. I've supported pro life nominees because it is the function of the president to put up qualified people and a senator to support people who are qualified.
(Emphasis mine)

The Senator understands his role of "advise and consent" as outlined by the Constitution. I believe that our President can be trusted to nominate qualified judges and it's up to the Senate to make sure they are confirmed.

To my fellow conservatives and pro-lifers who disagree with me, let me just suggest that you go and read Hugh Hewitt's excellent book "If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends On It". This election was not simply about short-term additions to a growing Republican majority. It was about putting this country on the right path for the long run. We must be willing to be patient and make steady progress towards our goals.

Dumping Senator Specter might satisfy pro-lifers who do not think he can be trusted to support conservative judges. But the backlash (particularly among red state Democratic Senators as well as moderate and liberal Republicans) may be so great that the President's judicial nominees do not get confirmed.

We have a President who understands the opportunity before him to not only reshape the Supreme Court but the entire federal judiciary. Republicans have the opportunity to change the rules so that every nominee can get an up or down vote in the Senate and to make substantial headway in reforming the nomination process.

A wise pastor told me once that you should choose carefully the hills you are willing to die on. In other words, you have to choose carefully the battles that you are willing to fight. Whether Senator Specter becomes chairman of the Judiciary committee to me is not one of those battles. There is too much at stake.

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