Celebrating the public service of Sen. Arlen Specter

Arlen Specter also was a senator’s senator. He loved the Constitution, he loved and honored the institutions of our democracy, and he loved policymaking and the political process. As a senator he tried to put the interests of the nation and the Senate’s special role in our system above partisanship while always representing and serving the people of Pennsylvania. He believed in aggressive oversight of government agencies, regardless of the administration’s affiliation, from our bipartisan investigation of the shootout at Ruby Ridge, to the political firings of U.S. attorneys and the threats to civil liberties posed during the Bush administration. He reached across the aisle to partner with me to try to pass comprehensive asbestos legislation and we joined to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act during the Bush administration. He supported more transparency, in every branch of our government, to ensure the American people knew what their government was doing. He was a strong supporter of law enforcement and a vigorous and fair judicial system. And he joined with Tom Harkin to direct billions of dollars to the National Institutes of Health and cancer research.
His work ethic and dedication were tested when he was first diagnosed with an advanced form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2005. Through that ordeal, Arlen kept his humor, his spirit, and his rigorous work schedule. He served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 2005 and 2006. I was the ranking Democratic member of the committee during those years and worked collaboratively to make my friend a success and ensured that we treated him fairly.  During those years and those that followed, when it was my turn to chair the committee and his to lead the Republican members, we used to joke that we spoke to each other more often than we spoke to our wives, Marcelle and Joan.
Arlen was a fighter. I never knew anyone who worked or fought harder. I think he hoped to fight through his disease one more time.

The history books will note that Arlen Specter was the longest-serving U.S. senator in Pennsylvania history. History should remember Arlen Specter as a person who tried to do what he thought was best for the country and to challenge the ever more constricting litmus test of partisan politics. He represented Pennsylvania and served the nation. Like the Republican senators who have represented Vermont, Arlen is an example to all senators, of any party. He will be missed.

Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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