Mr Specter’s longevity was all the more surprising considering that he possessed a rare and valuable trait in a politician: the ability to annoy both parties. In 1987, while a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he bucked his own party and its president by voting to oppose Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court, saying he had “substantial doubt about Judge Bork’s application of [the] fundamental legal principle” of equal protection, and expressed doubt more broadly about how Mr Bork “would apply fundamental questions of constitutional law.” In the end Mr Bork’s nomination failed; the nomination passed to Anthony Kennedy, who was confirmed unanimously and who remains on the bench today (also probably to the equal annoyance of both Republicans and Democrats). Four years later, he subjected Anita Hill, who had accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, to intense, some might say lurid questioning. Mr Specter was a rare pro-choice Republican, who as late as 2008 received a 100% rating on his voting record from NARAL; no doubt many expected him to take Ms Hill’s side, or at least to not interrogate her so aggressively (not for nothing was he nicknamed “Snarlin’ Arlen”). During Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings Mr Specter cited Scottish law to vote “not proven”, thus freeing him from having to vote either guilty or not guilty.
In 2009, Specter switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party, helping the Democrats achieve a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. His stint as a Democratic senator did not last long, as he ended up losing to Rep. Joe Sestak in the primary the following year.
After news of his death broke, Specter’s long, distinguished political career was remembered by politicians and former colleagues from both sides of the aisle.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, called Specter “a mentor, colleague and a political institution” who “did more for the people of Pennsylvania over his more than 30-year career with the possible exception of Benjamin Franklin.” And Pat Toomey, the Republican who now holds Specter’s old Senate seat, praised him as “a man of sharp intelligence and dogged determination.”
And at the White House, President Barack Obama said 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,” Obama said in a written statement.
And Vice President Joe Biden lamented the loss of “my friend ... who never walked away from his principles and was at his best when they were challenged.” Biden will travel to Penn Valley, Pa., on Tuesday for Specter’s funeral, according to the White House.