Pro-family conservatives blasted Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, who is expected to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, for issuing what was taken as warnings to President Bush that nominations of pro-life justices to the Supreme Court would not make it pass him and the new Senate.
If Specter assumes the coveted chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he could oversee any Supreme Court nominations that reach the senate in the next two years.
Specter, a moderate Republican, said during a press conference the day after the election that the president should avoid nominating any justice who would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, noting that Bush’s nominees have been filibustered before.
"And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning,” said Specter.
"When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely," he added.
His remarks angered conservatives and fellow Republicans, possibly costing him the chairmanship. Republicans rejoiced when House Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who was often charged with obstructionism, and would not be eager to see similar filibuster tactics repeated under Specter.
Pro-family leaders interpreted Specter’s message as a threat to block all pro-life judicial nominees.
"Sen. Specter has repeatedly made it clear that he will block appointments of federal judges who do not pass his pro-abortion litmus test," said Jan LaRue, Chief Counsel of Concerned Women for America. "It goes without saying that it is absolutely unacceptable to use 'specter vision' to critique judicial nominees."
"President Bush says his only litmus test for judges is whether they will interpret the law and not write it. Sen. Specter is openly opposed to the president and the Constitution on this."
Following Specter’s comments, Concerned Women for America issued a statement Thursday to Sen. Bill Frist and all the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee saying that Specter “disqualified” himself from the chairmanship.
The statement read: “Sen. Specter has dismissed as ‘unlikely’ the notion that he would allow a nominee who does not support the manifestly unconstitutional Roe v. Wade decision to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Sen. Specter has signaled in advance that he does not intend to conduct the Judiciary Committee in a fair and impartial manner. Therefore, he has disqualified himself from consideration for that position.”
Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, also had strong reactions to Specter’s publicized remarks.
"That is a not-so-subtle threat from Sen. Specter to the president," Dobson stated.
"Sen. Specter's message is clear," Dobson said. " 'Cheer for the ouster of Tom Daschle if you must, but don't think the obstructionism is going to stop, at least not if you try to place a judge on the federal bench who believes that preborn children should not be murdered in their mother's wombs.' "
What shocked Dobson even more was Specter’s turning on his own supporters.
“That is the worst kind of political bullying, not to mention arrogant grandstanding on the part of a man who certainly would not have survived a strong primary challenge last spring without the endorsement of President Bush and Sen. Rick Santorum,” he said.
In his own message to Specter, Dobson said the people’s values will be heard regardless of Specter's dissent.
"The people who put President Bush back in the White House and expanded the Republican majority in the Senate weren't voting for a party -- they were voting for candidates who share their pro-family values,” he said.
Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins urged Bush to “represent the people who voted for him by standing up to these warnings from Senator Specter.”
“With the addition of five new pro-life senators, the Senate itself became significantly more pro-life on Tuesday,” said Perkins. “Now is not the time to shrink from the duty to protect the dignity of life and family.”
He concluded, “President Bush has stated repeatedly throughout the months leading up to the election his commitment to a culture of life and his legacy will likely be defined in large part by who he appoints to the courts in the next four years.”
Upon the requests of Republicans, Specter later issued a clarification statement.
"Contrary to press accounts, I did not warn the president about anything and was very respectful of his constitutional authority on the appointment of federal judges,” he said.
He also said has “supported every one of President Bush's nominees in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor” and “would never apply any litmus test on the abortion issue.”
However, Concerned Women for America still stood by its original statement. In a Washington Post news report, LaRue said, "He's a desperate man trying to pull himself out of a hole he dug himself into.”