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Arlen Specter Senatorial Papers

What’s online?

The contents of the Speeches series and the Press Releases subseries are scanned and available online. To learn more about Arlen Specter and his senatorial collection, please visit the arlenspecter.library.pitt.edu website.

What’s in the entire collection?

The Arlen Specter Senatorial Papers document Specter’s career as the longest-serving U.S. Senator for the state of Pennsylvania, from 1981 to 2011. The collection reflects Specter’s involvement in some of the late 20th/early 21st century’s key political moments, including the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, the Supreme Court nomination hearing of Clarence Thomas, and the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Materials in the collection include legislative briefings, hearing transcripts, briefing books, memos, schedules, constituent mail, correspondence, photographs, campaign files, awards and memorabilia, and more.

About Arlen Specter

Born in Wichita, Kansas, on February 12, 1930, Arlen Specter came to Pennsylvania to attend the University of Pennsylvania. He married Joan Levy in 1953, and graduated from Yale Law School in 1956. He became assistant district attorney in Philadelphia in 1959. In 1962, Specter was recommended to serve on the Warren Commission, assembled to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As part of the Commission, he was responsible for co-authoring the proposal of the "single bullet theory," determining that one bullet struck both President Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally. Specter ran for Philadelphia district attorney in 1965, switching his Party membership to Republican in order to unseat the incumbent Democrat. He was successful, and served as district attorney from 1966 to 1974.

After an initial failed run for Senator and then for Governor of Pennsylvania, Specter was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980. He would stay in this position from 1981 to 2011, making him the longest-tenured senator in Pennsylvania's history. During this time, he was a member of a number of Committees: Judiciary (1981-2011; Chair, 2007-2007), Appropriations (1981-2011), Veterans Affairs (1981-2011; Chair, 1997-2001 and 2003-2005), Select Intelligence (1985-1991; 1995-1997; Chair, 1995-1997), Special Aging (1991-1995; 2007-2011), Governmental Affairs (1997-2001; 2003-2005), and Environment and Public Works (2001-2003; 2009-2011).

Though elected as a Republican, Specter was a moderate on many issues, including healthcare reform, immigration, and abortion. He would often cross party lines, such as in voting against the confirmation of President Ronald Reagan's nominee Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987. Specter would again come into the spotlight during a Supreme Court nomination process in 1991, for his cross-examination of Professor Anita Hill regarding her allegations against nominee Clarence Thomas. In 1999, he would vote against the charges brought against President Bill Clinton, giving an answer of "not proven" to reflect his belief that Clinton had not received a fair trial.

As Senator, Specter championed a number of causes and influenced many legislative areas. He was frequently a member of Congressional Delegation trips, particularly to the Middle East, where he would speak out on the cause of freedom from religious persecution and the importance of strong diplomatic relations. He was also a proponent of funding for medical research, including the use of stem cells. He advocated for strict crime laws, particularly for career criminals. His focus on benefitting Pennsylvania could be seen through the pursuit of grant funding opportunities and his attempt to prevent the closure of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in the 1990s.

With the worsening of Congressional partisanship in the late 2000s, Specter found himself frequently voting with his Democratic peers. After being one of only three handful of Republicans to vote for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, Specter found himself increasingly marginalized within his party. In April 2009, he returned to the Democratic Party, helping to ensure the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Seeking re-election in 2010, he was defeated in the Democratic primary by Joe Sestak.

Specter's 30-year tenure in the Senate concluded in January 2011. After leaving the Senate, he partnered with Philadelphia University (now Jefferson-East Falls) to establish the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service. In the fall of 2012, Specter, who had previously beaten Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2005 while serving as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, was diagnosed with cancer. He died on October 14, 2012, aged 82.

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