Irritating Them All
"It is a very polarized committee," he says. "It is what induces people to be on the Judiciary Committee: They have strong views one way or another. On one end of the political spectrum you have [Illinois Democrat Richard] Durbin and [Charles] Schumer; then you have [Edward] Kennedy and [Joseph] Biden. On the other side you have [Republicans] Orrin Hatch, Jeff Sessions [of Alabama], and Chuck Grassley [of Iowa], who are very conservative."
In the middle sits Specter, whose infamy partly comes from having aligned himself with those extreme factions at different--and crucial--times in the recent past.
First there was his contentious cross-examination of Robert Bork in 1987, which helped kill Bork's nomination to the court and turned Specter into a lifelong pariah among conservatives, followed by his ferocious questioning of Anita Hill, which may have salvaged Clarence Thomas's chances of confirmation in 1991. For this liberals continue to despise him.
"He does not have a whole lot of respect for the viewpoints of those at the extremes of both ends of the political process," says his son Shanin. "So when he is criticized by the extremists, he takes it as an affirmation of the rightness of what he is doing."
After a tough re-election fight last year, Specter caused an uproar among conservatives when he seemed to warn that an openly antiabortion nominee to the Supreme Court would have trouble getting confirmed. Conservatives launched a campaign to deny Specter chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, forcing the senator to lobby his Senate colleagues for the job.
Getting mad. In the end, of course, he got the position he wanted, and now he's going to do as he pleases. Specter will almost certainly vote to confirm Roberts, but the nominee won't be getting any free passes from the chairman. In preparation for the Roberts hearing, Specter says he has spent a lot of time reading in his den in Philadelphia, getting madder by the minute.
"It surprised me how far the court has gone in deriding congressional authority," he says.
"To read opinions that say that an act is unconstitutional because of 'our method of reasoning' . . . . How insulting!" says Specter, who takes great pride in his reasoning. "I mean, who in the hell are they?"
Born: Feb. 12, 1930
Education: U. of Pa., B.A., 1951. Yale Law, 1956
Public service: Asst. DA, Philadelphia, 1959-64; Warren Commission, 1964; Philadelphia DA, 1966-1974; U.S. senator, 1980-present