Specter makes a case for compromise in farewell address
December 21, 2010By Scott Detrow
Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania made a strong argument for moderation and compromise during his Senate farewell address Tuesday morning.
He chastised the chamber for growing more and more partisan – and subsequently, gridlocked – over his tenure.
“In some quarters, ‘compromising’ has become a dirty word,” he said. “Some senators insist on ideological purity as a precondition.” Specter criticized both Republicans and Democrats for attacking incumbents who strayed toward the center, or, in some cases, voted just once with the opposition. “Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism,” he warned.
Specter said one solution to moving away from partisanship and gridlock is to ease rules restricting the number of amendments that can be offered from the Senate floor during debate. Letting minority and majority lawmakers offer alternatives would cut back on the number of filibuster threats, he said.
Specter, who played a high-profile role in the nomination process of every sitting Supreme Court justice, also had harsh words for the court’s recent rightward shift.
“The court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect congressional fact finding and precedents. The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative," he said.
"Ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising -- effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person/one vote," Specter continued. "Roberts promised to just call balls and strikes and then moved the bases.”
Specter said one thing Congress can do to check the Supreme Court’s supposed activism is pass a law requiring the court to allow cameras into hearings. This has been a pet Specter cause for years.
“Brandeis was right that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he said, referring to Louis Brandeis, a justice on the court from 1916 to 1939.
“The court does follow the election returns and does judicially notice societal values as expressed by public opinion," said Specter. Polls show 85 percent of the American people favor televising the court when told that a citizen can only attend an oral argument for three minutes in a chamber holding only 300 people. Great Britain, Canada, and state supreme courts permit television.”
The farewell address wasn’t Specter’s final speech – in fact, he was on the floor about an hour later debating the START treaty.