Arlen Specter dies at age 82

    Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a Philadelphian who played a key role in many Supreme Court nominations, has died.

    He was 82. Son Shanin Specter said his father died Sunday morning at his East Falls home in Philadelphia, from complications of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

    Over the years, the senator had battled brain tumors and other health problems.


    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Former Gov. Ed Rendell spoke with NewsWorks on the passing of the Senator:

    “I just got a call from Shanin Specter five minutes ago telling me his father passed. Arlen Specter will go down as one of the greatest public servants in Pennsylvania history. He did more to help the citizens of the commonwealth in 30 years of public service than anyone other than Ben Franklin.”

    Specter served 30 years in the Senate, a Pennsylvania record.

    President Barack Obama issued a statement, as well. “Arlen Specter was always a fighter. From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent – never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve.”

    Vice President Joseph Biden, a close friend of Sen. Specter’s who frequently rode Amtrak with him when they returned home after the Capitol Hill workweek, had this to say: “Arlen Specter was a great senator who lived his life the way he died, with dignity and courage. He was my friend and I admired him a great deal.

    “For over three decades, I watched his political courage accomplish great feats and was awed by his physical courage to never give up.”

    U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who now holds the Senate seat in which Spector served five terms, said, “A man of sharp intelligence and dogged determination, Sen. Specter dedicated his life to public service and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. His impact on our state and public policy will not be forgotten.”

    Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter noted that Specter served his adopted city first as district attorney, then as an effective advocate for urban needs in Congress.  “His door and resources were always open and available to virtually any request I made on behalf of the city,” Nutter said in a statement. “He displayed gutsy, bold, strategic leadership on any number of issues.”

    Specter, a native of Kansas, worked hard during his years on the Judiciary Committee to create fair, consistent standards for the review of judicial nominations, including those for the Supreme Court. But one of the most controversial moments in his long Senate career was his tough questioning of Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court, which angered many feminists.

    Specter ran for president in 1996.  Other highlights of his career were his service as an assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, where he helped crafted the “single bullet theory” on the Kennedy assasination, his unusual vote of “not proven” during President Clinton’s impeachment trial, and his attempts to clean up what he regarded as constitutional problems with the George W. Bush administration’s wiretapping of U.S. citizens as part of the “war on terror.”

    In April 2009, he startled fellow senators when he announced he was switching to the Democratic side because he did not think he could win the nomination for a sixth term in the increasingly conservative GOP. He wound up losing the 2010 Democratic primary to then-Rep. Joe Sestak, who lost to  Toomey.

    Specter was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee before the Democrats regained power in 2007.

    What did you think of Arlen Specter’s career in public service?  Tell us about a time something he did impacted you or your community?


    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal