Arlen Specter was a five-term U.S. senator representing Pennsylvania, first as a Republican and then as a Democrat, who won admirers and critics for his independence and willingness to cross party lines.
Mr. Specter, who was 82 years old, died Sunday morning at his home in Philadelphia because of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his son Shanin Specter told the Associated Press. Mr. Specter had endured several recent health battles in public, including treatment for a brain tumor in the 1990s and, in 2005, for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Mr. Specter played a part in controversies that captivated at least two generations of Americans. As a young Philadelphia prosecutor, he advised the commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As a veteran U.S. senator, he was a forceful questioner at the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Mr. Specter served in the Senate from 1981 to 2011 and was the longest-serving senator from Pennsylvania. For most of those years, he was a centrist Republican, but in early 2009, when a strong GOP primary challenger stepped forward, Mr. Specter switched parties and became a Democrat.
At the time, he said that as the GOP had moved “farther and farther to the right,” he had found himself increasingly “more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party.” Two years later, a loss in the Democratic primary brought an end to his Senate career.
Over his career, Mr. Specter frequently changed his political leanings and often split his votes between Democrats and Republicans, angering colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He generally supported affirmative action, some gay-rights protections and abortion rights—while saying he personally opposed abortion. Meanwhile, he strongly opposed most gun-control measures.
Later in his career, Mr. Specter switched sides twice on a bill to ease union organizing, finally telling labor unions in 2009 that he backed the measure.
In an autobiography that came out earlier this year, Mr. Specter again bemoaned the increasing polarization of Washington and primarily faulted his former GOP colleagues and the rise of tea-party activists. “Politics is no longer the art of the possible when Senators are intransigent in their positions,” he wrote.
Mr. Specter was also known for his strong support of the National Institutes of Health and medical research. He played a prominent role on the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly during high-profile Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Mr. Specter was born in Wichita, Kan., in 1930. During the Korean War, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1953. Before his Senate career, he practiced law in Philadelphia and served two terms as the city’s district attorney from 1966 to 1974.
In 1964, he served as assistant counsel on the Warren Commission that investigated President Kennedy’s assassination, and he is credited with helping to develop the “single bullet theory.” The theory posited that a single bullet caused multiple wounds to the president and Texas Gov. John Connally and supported the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.
Mr. Specter drew criticism during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991 for his aggressive questioning of Anita Hill, a law professor who said she had been sexually harassed by Mr. Thomas. Mr. Specter accused her of “flat-out perjury.”
In 1999, Mr. Specter criticized Republicans for impeaching President Bill Clinton, arguing the president hadn’t received a fair trial. Once again, he sought to chart his own course, citing Scottish law and casting a vote of “not proved.”
Mr. Specter was diagnosed with a brain tumor twice in the 1990s. Then in 2005, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and continued to work through his chemotherapy treatments, which had left him bald. Sen. John Sununu shaved his head in solidarity. In 2008, Mr. Specter announced that his cancer had returned, and he underwent a second round of chemotherapy.
On Aug. 28, his office confirmed that he was fighting another form of cancer that had been diagnosed six weeks earlier.
Source: The Wall Street Journal