Arlen Specter

Arlen Specter Denounces Roberts Court, Republican Obstructionism

In his farewell speech, US Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania called on Congress to move quickly to counter the burgeoning right-wing extremism of the Roberts Court and the Republican caucus. Specter, who was first elected to the US Senate in 1980 as a Republican, spoke about how the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has shown little respect for their own precedents or congressional fact-finding while pursuing a hard line pro-corporate bent. The increasingly conservative Court has consistently ruled in favor of corporations over the rights of workers and consumers, and the concerns of environmental protection and fair elections. Specter specifically pointed to the Roberts Court’s decision in Citizens United, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited and undisclosed funds from their general treasuries in elections and overturned decades of Court precedents and congressional measures limiting corporate influence in politics. Specter said:

This Congress should try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the constitutional mandate of Separation of Powers. The Supreme Court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect congressional fact finding and precedents, that is stare decisis.

The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative: ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony, given under oath, and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising, thus effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote.

Chief Roberts promised to just “call balls and strikes,” and then he moved the bases.

Specter also blasted Republican obstructionism in the Senate. He said that even though 59 Senators backed ending debate on the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required groups to publicly disclose their donors, the important bill never received an up-or-down vote due to Republican procedural moves:

Repeatedly, senior Republican Senators have recently abandoned long held positions out of fear of losing their seats over a single vote or because of party discipline. With 59 votes for cloture on this side of the aisle, not a single Republican would provide the sixtieth vote for many important legislative initiatives, such as identifying campaign contributors to stop secret contributions.

The Pennsylvanian later criticized the GOP for preventing judicial nominees from also having up-or-down votes:

Important positions are left open for months, but the Senate agenda today is filled with un-acted upon judicial and executive nominees. And many of those judicial nominees are in areas where there is an emergency backlog.

When discussing how Senate Republican leaders, such as Jim DeMint (R-SC), supported ultraconservative candidates against Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Bob Bennett (R-UT), and Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), Specter condemned the GOP’s embrace of “right-wing extremists,” adding: “Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism.”

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Specter Says He’ll Support Dawn Johnsen

In what can only be taken as good news for the rule of law, Senator Arlen Specter said today that he’ll support Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

UPDATE (3:48 p.m.): A statement from Specter's office: “After voting 'pass' (which means no position) in the Judiciary Committee, I had a second extensive meeting with Ms. Johnsen and have been prepared to support her nomination when it reaches the Senate floor.”

Johnsen has received support from across the political spectrum, but her nomination has so far been blocked in the unprecedented obstruction that we’ve seen from Senate Republicans. Today’s announcement from Senator Specter is a major step forward.

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Truth Telling in the Senate Judiciary Committee

President Obama’s choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel moved out of the Judiciary Committee today on a not-quite party line vote of 11-7. All the Democrats on the Committee supported her nomination, and all the Republicans opposed it, except for Arlen Specter, who passed.

Today’s vote is important because now the nomination of this extraordinarily qualified woman to head the Office of Legal Counsel will go forward to the floor, where—hopefully—she will get a vote by the full Senate.

But today’s session was also important because of the truth telling by a number of members, including Senators Leahy, Durbin, and Whitehouse, about the central role the Office of Legal Counsel played during the Bush Administration in undermining the rule of law and advancing some of its "most horrendous practices." As Senator Whitehouse said it was the "leading contender for the most rotten place during the Bush Administration.” 

The Senators made the case for how qualified Dawn Johnsen is to head this office—her record of previous service as a Deputy Attorney General; her intellectual honesty and exceptionally good judgment; her extremely constructive role, in response to the Bush Administration excesses, in pulling together nineteen former OLC attorneys to craft a statement of principles to guide the Office of Legal Counsel that has won bipartisan praise. And they told their colleagues on the other side of the aisle that when this nomination comes to the floor, if they want to debate the past role of the Office of Legal Counsel, if they want to debate the role that John Yoo among others played in undermining the rule of law, then bring it on. That’s the kind of debate the American people will understand!

This was a good day for the American people, and for the rule of law.  Let’s hope it continues.

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Energized and ready to pave the way

In President Obama's first few days in office, he has already undone some serious damage from the previous administration with the stroke of a pen. He signed orders to close Guantanamo and the CIA's network of secret foreign prisons. And he repealed the global gag rule prohibiting U.S. dollars and contraceptive supplies from going to any international family planning program that provides abortions or counsels women about their reproductive health options. He's nominated stellar candidates to run the government, many of whom have been confirmed and started their work.

Great start!

President Obama's inauguration this week was enthusiastically celebrated by Americans of all political stripes. Even many former Bush supporters have embraced President Obama and agree that the country needs to move beyond partisanship and division. President Obama's high approval ratings are a clear indication that Americans are willing and ready to do what's needed to heal our economy, restore our good standing in the world and meet the enormous challenges we face.

Unfortunately, it seems that not quite everyone is ready to move forward with us. On Wednesday, led by Sens. Arlen Specter and John Cornyn, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed a committee vote on Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder. Blocking confirmation of this historic nominee is exactly what Americans don't need or want. Whatever political assurances they may be seeking from Holder before he takes the reins at the DOJ, as attorney general, Holder's only commitments should be to the Constitution, the law and the American people (commitments he has already demonstrated that he will honor).

Some of these same Senate Republicans even tried to play partisan games with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, using their ability to offer amendments to slow the legislation. But I am happy to report that last night the Senate passed it! Thank you to all of you who took action over the last few years in support of the bill -- this is a tremendous victory. Next up: the Paycheck Fairness Act! Stay tuned for more on that as we keep up the pressure to get that through the Senate.

Eric Holder's confirmation. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. These are things worth fighting for. We can't count on any party or branch of government to always to do the right thing, but when they do, we need to be there to block for them -- to make sure we're countering the opposition who would deter progress and the restoration of constitutional values to our government.

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Right On, Leahy

Trying to "send a message" and indicating he may try to obstruct Obama's efforts to restore constitutional values in Washington, Sen. Arlen Specter (the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee) is now pushing to delay confirmation hearings for Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder. Read Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy’s letter in response -- it's actually pretty entertaining (as another People For staffer said, meow).

Leahy: No Double Standard For Eric Holder (click)

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