New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg penned an obituary in Monday's edition for former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who died Sunday morning.
Specter served as a liberal Republican for most of his career before switching to the Democratic Party in 2009 in an unsuccessful attempt to preserve his seat. But while Specter battled conservative icon Judge Robert Bork and helped deny Bork a seat on the Supreme Court, it's a later Supreme Court dust-up the Times and liberals refuse to forgive him for: His tough questioning of Anita Hill after she accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during Thomas's 1991 Supreme Court hearings.
Arlen Specter, the irascible senator from Pennsylvania who was at the center of many of the Senate’s most divisive legal battles -- from the Supreme Court nominations of Robert H. Bork and Clarence Thomas to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton -- only to lose his seat in 2010 after quitting the Republican Party to become a Democrat, died Sunday morning at his home in Philadelphia. He was 82.
One of the few remaining Republican moderates on Capitol Hill at a time when the party had turned sharply to the right, Mr. Specter confounded fellow Republicans at every turn. He unabashedly supported Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, and championed biomedical and embryonic stem cell research long before he received his cancer diagnosis.
When he made a bid for the White House in 1995, he denounced the Christian right as an extremist “fringe” -- an unorthodox tactic for a candidate trying to win votes in a Republican primary. The campaign was short-lived; Mr. Specter ended it when he ran out of cash. Years later, he said wryly of the other candidates, “I was the only one of nine people in New Hampshire who wanted to keep the Department of Education.”
He relished the decades he spent on the Judiciary Committee. He enraged conservatives in 1987 by helping to derail Judge Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court and then delighted them four years later by backing Justice Thomas. The Thomas confirmation nearly cost Mr. Specter his Senate seat; even now, millions of American women remain furious with him for his aggressive questioning of Anita F. Hill, a law professor who had accused Justice Thomas of sexual harassment when they worked together at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If he had any regrets, Mr. Specter rarely admitted them.
“I’ve gone back and looked at every frame of the videos on Professor Hill, and I did not ask her one unprofessional question,” he said in a 2004 interview with The New York Times. Of the Bork and Thomas confirmations, he said, “I may be wrong, but I’m satisfied with what I did in both those cases.”
It's telling that Stolberg didn't demand "contrition" from Specter for his treatment of Robert Bork, only of Anita Hill.
The Senate rejected the nomination, and conservatives never forgave Mr. Specter. Judge Bork, in an interview with The Times in 2004, called him “generally a bit shifty.” Likewise, women’s groups, who had considered Mr. Specter an ally, never forgave him for accusing Ms. Hill of perjury. Ultimately, Mr. Specter expressed contrition, saying he had come to understand why Ms. Hill’s complaint of sexual harassment had “touched a raw nerve among so many women.”