Long-time Senate Judiciary Committee member Arlen Specter lost his bid for a sixth term Tuesday night, after switching to the Democratic party last year in an attempt to salvage his political career.
Specter, 80, lost the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania to Rep. Joe Sestak. His defeat is part of a wave of anti-incumbent anger that’s sweeping out veterans of both parties. Specter abandoned the GOP after polls showed him badly trailing ex-Rep. Pat Toomey for the Republican nomination. Read the New York Times story here. Paul Kane in the Washington Post lists some of Specter’s most memorable career highlights here.
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) said he is in line to reclaim the Senate Judiciary Committee chairmanship, but is being blocked by three senior Democrats, according to a story in The Hill newspaper Wednesday.
Specter said he struck a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that would give him the gavel if Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) takes the helm of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Pennsylvania senator, who became a Democrat last spring, previously held the Judiciary Committee gavel from 2005 to 2007 when he was a Republican.
“The arrangement I had with Reid is that I would have the same seniority as if I had been elected as a Democrat in 1980,” Specter told the newspaper. “I would be behind Leahy, and when he moved up to chairman of Appropriations, I would move to chairman of Judiciary.”
Leahy is next in line for the Senate Appropriations Committee chairmanship, which is held by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). But Inouye, 85, has launched a reelection bid for this year and appears healthy.
Specter landed himself a more senior seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee last month after he occupied the most junior seats on the panel for almost a year.
Democrats initially denied Specter seniority in the panel when he switched parties last spring. Until Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) joined the panel last summer, Specter held the most junior Democratic seat on the committee, 11 seats away from Leahy, who occupies the best seat in the committee room. But he has held the gavel of the Judiciary’s crime and drugs subcommittee since the spring.
The Pennsylvania Democrat became the panel’s fifth-ranking Democrat in March, behind Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and ahead of Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. Feingold and Sens. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Dianne Feinstein of California, who are respectively the second- and third-ranking Democrats, do not support Specter cutting in front of them for the gavel, according to The Hill.
“You don’t come this far to watch people on the other team cut in front of you,” a Democratic aide told the newspaper.
Specter told The Hill that there has been “some pushback from the [Democratic] caucus” about putting him in line for the Judiciary committee gavel. But he said he will continue to push the issue and might request a Democratic Conference vote on the matter before the election.
A Reid spokesman declined to comment to the newspaper.
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) has landed himself a more senior seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, putting him only a few spots away from the chairman.
Specter, who once held the gavel himself as Republican chairman of the panel from 2005 to 2007, had been occupying a seat in the nosebleed section of the panel’s table since he switched parties last spring and Democrats denied him seniority.
Until Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) joined the panel last summer, Specter held the most junior Democratic seat on the committee, 11 seats away from chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who occupies the best seat in the committee room.
But at the panel’s weekly business meeting Thursday, Specter took the fourth seat away from Leahy. He’s also now listed on the Senate Judiciary Web site as the panel’s fifth-ranking Democrat, behind Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and ahead of Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
A Senate aide said that members of the committee were consulted on the move and that Specter’s new position more closely mirrors his seniority within the Senate.
A committee spokeswoman directed questions from Main Justice to the Senate leadership, which makes decisions on Democratic senators’ seniority. A Senate leadership spokeswoman declined to comment to Main Justice.
Specter is serving his fifth term in the Senate. Specter is chairman of the Judiciary panel’s crime and drugs subcommittee. He was also the panel’s ranking Republican before he became a Democrat last May.
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., introduced legislation Tuesday that would make it a federal crime to intimidate or threaten witnesses in state court proceedings, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The legislation would give state witnesses the same legal protections that federal witnesses have.
“It is a violation of state law to intimidate a witness, but making it a federal offense imports a great deal more pressure, more power to the situation,” Specter said in a floor statement Tuesday. Here is Specter’s news release about the bill.
According to Specter, the State Witness Protection Act of 2010 is in response to a Philadelphia Inquirer series that found witness fear to be a factor in virtually every violent-crime prosecution in Philadelphia. The legislation would help protect the integrity of the judicial process, Specter said.
“Unless witnesses can be assured they will be protected, the problem of witness intimidation cannot be expected to go away,” he said.
The bill would allow the FBI and federal prosecutors to investigate and bring charges against people who intimidate witnesses in local court cases and would set tough new penalties for those crimes.
It would impose maximum penalties of up to 20 years for intimidating or harming a witness, up to 30 years for the attempted murder of a witness, and the possibility of the death penalty for the murder of a witness, according to the Inquirer.
According to The Inquirer, Specter’s effort was supported by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Barbara Clowden, whose 17-year-old son was killed two days before he was to testify as a witness in an arson trial in 2006. Clowden was profiled in the Inquirer series.
The Inquirer stories documented conviction rates that are among the lowest in the nation and described how thousands of cases collapse after terrified witnesses fail to appear in court.
The legislation is cosponsored by three other Senate Judiciary Committee members: Ted Kaufman, D-Del., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
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Former Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan will decide within the next couple weeks whether she will seek the Republican nomination for a House seat in Western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported today.
Buchanan, who served as the Western District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney from 2001 until November 2009, told the newspaper that she was “very encouraged” by meetings she had with local Republicans about seeking the 4th District seat just north of Pittsburgh that is held by Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), who is running for a third term.
“The common message I’ve been hearing, consistently, is that most voters feel the current administration is forcing its agenda and programs on people who don’t want them, who don’t feel like paying for them and who are not willing to leave this tax bill for future generations,” Buchanan told the Tribune-Review.
The ex-U.S. Attorney would likely challenge lawyer Keith Rothfus in the Republican primary, according to the newspaper. Congressional Quarterly rates the district as “likely Democratic” for the 2010 election.
Beaver County GOP Chairman Marty Matthews told the Tribune-Review that Buchanan would face an “uphill battle” if she runs. The former U.S. Attorney has received harsh criticism for her unsuccessful prosecution of former Allegheny County medical examiner Cyril Wecht.
Her office dismissed all charges against the prominent Democratic defendant after a federal judge threw out evidence that he ruled was improperly obtained. Wecht’s supporters accused Buchanan of targeting him because of his politics. And former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh asked Attorney General Eric Holder to discipline Buchanan for “vindictively” suggesting at a news conference that Wecht was guilty, but nothing ever came of the request -– at least publicly.
“Personal opinion, I think if there were another candidate who had the recognition that Mary Beth Buchanan has, it would be the better choice,” Matthews told the newspaper. “It’s the Wecht thing, primarily.”
We reported last week that Buchanan also came out on the losing end of an apparent political skirmish over a rescue mission for 53 Haitian orphans. She was trying to organize efforts to help Haitian children stranded in an orphanage destroyed by this month’s earthquake. But Altmire and Gov. Ed Rendell (D) planned their own rescue mission and kept the Bush U.S. Attorney mostly out of the loop.
Two other former U.S. Attorneys from Pennsylvania who served during the administration of George W. Bush have already declared their candidacies for House seats.
Tom Marino, who was the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania from 2002 to October 2007, is running for the seat held by Rep. Chris Carney (D). Patrick Meehan, who led the Eastern District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney’s Office from 2001 to 2008, is seeking the seat that is being vacated by Rep. Joe Sestak (D), who is running against Sen. Arlen Specter in the state’s Democratic Senate primary.
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Zane D. Memeger, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, is expected to be nominated for U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, while Charles M. Oberly III, a former state attorney general, is expected to be nominated for Delaware’s U.S. Attorney, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The newspaper reports that Memeger was recommended by Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter, both Democrats, according to the sources with knowledge of the selection process. He will have to pass his FBI background check before President Obama sends his nomination to the Senate.
Memeger was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the district for 11 years before leaving in 2006 to join Philadelphia-headquartered Morgan Lewis, where he is now a partner, The Inquirer reports. His practice focuses on corporate and white collar crime. While in the U.S. Attorney’s office, Memeger served on the organized crime strike force. He was on the team that successfully prosecuted mobster Joey Merlino and Imam Shamsud-din Ali on racketeering charges, according to the Inquirer.
The Eastern District office has been vacant since Pat Meehan resigned in July 2008 to explore a bid for the Republican nomination for governor of Pennsylvania. But he’s now running for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Joe Sestak (D), who is challenging party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary next year. The district’s current interim U.S. Attorney is Michael L. Levy.
Meanwhile, Oberly, who is now of counsel with the Wilmington office of the firm Drinker Biddle, is expected to be nominated within a month, according to the Inquirer’s sources. Oberly was the Delaware attorney general from 1983 to 1985. He had a failed bid for U.S. Senate in 1994.
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For the confirmation prospects for President Barack Obama’s recently re-nominated pick to lead the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), recent developments have brought one bit of good news and one bit of potentially bad news.
Earlier this month, long-stalled OLC nominee Dawn Johnsen received the backing of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who previously said he opposed her candidacy to head the elite DOJ office that assesses the constitutionality and legality of government actions.
Specter’s newly declared support theoretically put Johnsen at the 60 votes that would Democrats need to invoke cloture and proceed to a Senate floor vote on her nomination. And we emphasize the “theoretical” part, because the whip count is complicated.
Getting to 60 depended on ailing Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) being present in the chamber and having Democrats who haven’t declared their position on cloture, such as Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska,who opposes Johnsen, siding with their party on the procedural vote. One Republican — Sen. Richard Lugar of Johnsen’s home state of Indiana — has said he supports her nomination and a spokesman for the senator told Main Justice he “believes” the Indiana Republican would vote for cloture.
But the Senate victory by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts this week was another pothole in Johnsen’s long and winding confirmation road. Once Sen.-elect Brown is seated, Democrats will have only 59 votes in the Senate, including those of independents who caucus with the Democrats. Republicans will have 41.
The Judiciary Committee had endorsed her nomination March 19, 2009, on a party-line vote of 11-7. Although Democrats had 60 votes during most of the 10 months that Johnsen was a nominee last year, opposition to Johnsen from Specter, Nelson and several Republicans made it difficult for Democratic leaders to schedule a floor vote on the nomination. Conservative senators have voiced concerns about Johnsen’s attacks on the George W. Bush administration’s national security policies and her past work for an abortion rights group.
The Senate was forced to return the nominee to the White House on Dec. 24, after the majority leadership was unable to secure enough support to hold her over to the next session of Congress. But Obama re-nominated her this week.
With Lugar and Nelson voting for cloture and Byrd in good health, the Democrats would have their 60 votes. Without the senators, Democratic leaders might be able to lean on moderate Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who both remain undecided on cloture and confirmation.
Democrats seem unlikely to win any new Republican support on Johnsen. And Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, is urging panel Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold another hearing on Johnsen.
Sessions said in a letter to Leahy that there are “many unanswered questions” about her.
With health care still on the front burner and continued uncertainty about Johnsen’s prospects for confirmation, Johnsen could spend more months traveling a rocky road toward confirmation.
Don’t hold your breath but…
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is urging his fellow senators to support his effort to change Senate rules to essentially eliminate the filibuster, The Huffington Post reported today. A rule change must pass the Senate by a two-thirds vote.
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Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) said Tueday he will support Dawn Johnsen to lead the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel.
The former Republican, who is up for re-election this year, previously said he opposed Johnsen for the post. Specter announced his position in a statement released by his office hours after his opponent in the Democratic primary, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), called on the senator to get behind Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor.
“After voting ‘pass’ (which means no position) in the Judiciary Committee, I had a second extensive meeting with Ms. Johnsen and have been prepared to support her nomination when it reaches the Senate floor,” Specter said.
The Pennsylvania senator will vote for cloture on the nomination and vote in favor of her confirmation on the Senate floor, according to a Specter spokesperson. The Democrats’ inability to muster 60 votes to end debate on her nomination has been the procedural hurdle holding up the nomination. It is still unclear if Specter’s support will be enough to move Johnsen through the Senate.
Johnsen was first nominated on Feb. 11, 2009. On March 19, 2009, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination on a party line vote.
The senator’s office said in a statement to Main Justice last November that Specter still had “several concerns” about Johnsen, after meeting with her twice in April and May to “get clarification on her positions.” His office issued the November statement after we asked the senator to respond to accusations from Sestak that Specter was blocking the nomination.
Conservative senators have criticized Johnsen for her vocal opposition to the Bush administration’s legal policies and her work on an abortion-rights group, while several liberal groups have praised her.
Specter, who switched parties in April, is facing a tough primary challenge in a state with an increasingly conservative GOP electorate. His political challenge now is to appeal to Democrats while still holding onto some Republican voters if he gets to the general election
This post has been updated from an earlier version.
Sen. Arlen Specter’s opponent in the upcoming Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary called on the former Republican to get behind President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel.
“Senator Specter, President Obama is giving you a second chance to support his nominee to lead the Office of Legal Counsel,” Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) said in a memo to Specter.
Specter has said he opposes Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen for the post. But has yet to say whether he would support a procedural motion to end debate on her nomination, which would allow Johnsen to come before the Senate for an up-or-down vote. Specter met with her at least two times last year to discuss her nomination.
Specter, who is up for re-election this year, switched parties in April after concluding he could not win a primary election among the state’s increasingly conservative GOP electorate. His political challenge now is to appeal to Democrats while still holding onto some Republican voters if he gets to the general election.
Johnsen was critical of the Bush administration’s legal policies and also once worked for an abortion-rights group. She has strong support from liberal groups but is opposed by conservative senators, who have blocked her nomination for nearly a year.
Johnsen was nominated on Feb. 11, 2009. On March 19, 2009, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination on a party line vote. Specter, who was a Republican at the time, abstained from the panel vote.
As it recessed for its winter break on Dec. 24, the Senate returned her nomination to the White House. Obama intends to re-nominate her for the post. A spokesperson for Specter did not have an immediate comment.
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People familiar with the Philadelphia U.S. Attorney selection process are pointing fingers at Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) for delays in candidate vetting, the Philadelphia Daily News reported today.
The selection of a nominee for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania post is likely some time away, individuals familiar with the process told the Daily News. The Justice Department is reviewing several candidates for the job, because Specter and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) were unable to agree on a single candidate to recommend to the White House last month, according to the newspaper.
Senators who are in the same party as the president traditionally make joint recommendations to the White House. This means the U.S. Attorney recommendations would have been in Casey’s hands before Specter switched parties in April. Specter was included in the selection process when he became a Democrat, complicating the matter, according to the Daily News.
A Specter spokesperson declined to comment to the newspaper. Larry Smar, a spokesperson for Casey, told the Daily News that he didn’t “have a sense of when a nomination will be made.”
The newspaper said the following lawyers are thought to be among the finalists for the U.S. Attorney post, which was held by Patrick Meehan, who resigned in July 2008 and is running for a House seat in Pennsylvania:
- Cheryl A. Krause, a partner at Dechert LLP and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
- James Eisenhower, a partner at Schnader Harrison Segal and Lewis LLP and former Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney.
- J. Huntley Palmer of JP Morgan Chase & Co. and a former Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney.
The three possible finalists declined to comment to the Daily News.
This post has been corrected from an earlier version.