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Moderate Republican Former Senator Arlen Specter Dies

Specter was first elected to the Senate in 1980 and served as a moderate Republican until he left the GOP in 2009, and lost his seat in 2010. He was 82 years old.

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WASHINGTON — Former Sen. Arlen Specter, a one time Republican moderate who ultimately abandoned the GOP in the face of the growing Tea Party movement, passed away Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

Specter, 82, died after a long battle with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

A former prosecutor, Specter was elected to the Senate in 1980 and quickly made a name for himself on the Judiciary Committee.

Although often viewed as prickly and gruff, Specter had a dry sense of humor and developed close personal relationships with many of his colleagues. And while he also had a reputation in the halls of Congress as a task master, many of his staff remained fiercely loyal him, moving parties with him when he changed allegiances in 2009.


He first came into the national spotlight during the 1987 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Robert Bork. Although strongly backed by the Reagan Administration and his fellow Republicans, Specter balked at Bork’s harshly conservative interpretation of constitutional law and opposed his nomination to the high court, ultimately helping torpedo it.

Although Democrats hailed his decision, four years later he found himself under attack from liberal over his support of President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

Throughout his career, Specter was a constant thorn in an increasingly conservative Republican Party. Pennsylvanian hued closely to the old-line, business friendly principles of the party, even as his fellow Republicans increasingly took up the banners of the social conservative movement.

By the time he took control of the Judiciary Committee in 2005, Specter had so angered conservatives that they sought to block his ascension to the committee’s top slot, ultimately forcing him to essentially pledge to back President George W. Bush’s court nominees.


But his opposition to the administration’s wire tapping efforts and his support for abortion rights and immigration reforms rankled Republicans, ultimately forcing the life-long Republican to quit the party in 2009. He ultimately lost his seat to Sen. Pat Toomey in 2010.

In the 1960s, Specter served on the Warren Commission, and was instrumental in formulating the so-called One Bullet Theory of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.

John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.

Contact John Stanton at

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