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He served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War.
Specter was born in Wichita, Kansas, the youngest child of Lillie (née Shanin) and Harry Specter, who grew up in the Bachkuryne village of Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine. Specter was Jewish, and wrote in his memoir, Passion for Truth, that his father's family was the only Jewish family in the village. The family lived at 940 South Emporia Street in Wichita before moving to Russell, Kansas, where he graduated from Russell High School in 1947. Russell is also the hometown of fellow politician Bob Dole (who graduated from Russell High School in 1941). Specter said that his father weighed items from his junkyard on a scale owned by Dole's father Doran Dole (who owned a granary). He said his brother Morton and Dole's brother Kenny were contemporaries and friends.
Specter's father served in the U.S. infantry during World War I, and was badly wounded. During the Great Depression, Specter's father was a fruit peddler, a tailor, and a junkyard owner. After graduating from Russell High School, Arlen Specter studied first at the University of Oklahoma. He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, majored in international relations, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1951. While at Penn, Specter was a member of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. Specter said the family moved to Philadelphia when his sister Shirley was of a marriageable age because there were no other Jews in Russell.
In 1953, he married Joan Levy. In 1979, she was elected to one of the two allotted minority party at-large seats on the Philadelphia City Council. She held the seat for four terms, until she was defeated for re-election in 1995 by Frank Rizzo, Jr.. The couple had two sons. Specter graduated from Yale Law School in 1956, while serving as editor of the Yale Law Journal. Afterward, Specter opened a law practice, Specter & Katz, with Marvin Katz, who served as a Federal District Court Judge in Philadelphia, until his death in October 2010. Specter represented Ira Einhorn. Specter became an assistant district attorney under District Attorney James C. Crumlish, Jr., and was a member of the Democratic Party.
In 1965, Specter ran for Philadelphia district attorney against his former boss, incumbent James C. Crumlish, Jr. However, the city's Democratic leaders, such as Peter Camiel, did not want Specter as their candidate, so he switched parties and ran as a Republican, prompting Crumlish to call him "Benedict Arlen". Specter defeated Crumlish by 36,000 votes. Although he was a supporter of capital punishment, as a prosecutor he questioned the fairness of the Pennsylvania death penalty statute in 1972.
In 1967 he was the Republican Party standard bearer, together with City Controller candidate, Tom Gola, in the Philadelphia mayoral campaign against the Democratic incumbent James Tate. Two of their slogans were, "We need THESE guys to watch THOSE guys" and "They're younger, they're tougher, and nobody owns them!" He served two four-year terms as district attorney for the city of Philadelphia, but was handily defeated in his bid for a third term in 1973 by noted criminal defense attorney Emmett Fitzpatrick.
In 1976, Specter ran in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and was defeated by John Heinz. In 1978, he was defeated in the primary for Governor of Pennsylvania by Dick Thornburgh. After several years in private practice with the Philadelphia law firm Dechert, Price & Rhoads, Specter ran again for the U.S. Senate in 1980. This time, he won, and assumed office in January 1981.
Specter worked for Lyndon Johnson's Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy, at the recommendation of Representative Gerald Ford, who was then one of the Commissioners. As an assistant for the commission, he co-wrote the proposal of the "single bullet theory", which suggested the non-fatal wounds to Kennedy and wounds to Texas Governor John Connally were caused by the same bullet. This was a crucial assertion for the Warren Commission, since if the two had been wounded by separate bullets within such a short time frame, that would have demonstrated the presence of a second assassin and therefore a conspiracy. The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations published their report in 1979 stating that their "forensic pathology panel's conclusions were consistent with the so-called single bullet theory advanced by the Warren Commission".
In 1980, Specter became the Republican nominee for Senate when Republican incumbent Richard Schweiker announced his retirement. He faced the former Mayor of Pittsburgh, Pete Flaherty. Specter won the election by a 2.5% margin. He was later re-elected in 1986, 1992, 1998, and 2004, despite 1992 and 1998 being bad years for Republicans. Specter ran for re-election in 2010, for the first time as a Democrat, but was defeated in the primary.
In 1988, he co-sponsored an amendment to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination in the rental, sale, marketing, and financing of the nation's housing. The amendment strengthened the ability of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity to enforce the Fair Housing Act and expanded the protected classes to include disabled persons and families with children. In 1998 and 1999, Specter criticized the Republican Party for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Believing that Clinton had not received a fair trial, Specter cited Scots law to render a verdict of "not proven" on Clinton's impeachment. However, his verdict was recorded as "not guilty" in the Senate records.
Specter was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1995, when the Republicans gained control of the Senate, until 1997, when he became chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs. He chaired that committee until 2001 and again from 2003 to 2005, during the times the Republicans controlled the Senate. He also chaired the Judiciary Committee from 2005 to 2007.
On March 31, 1995, Specter announced his candidacy for President of the United States, to challenge the incumbent Bill Clinton. He entered the race as an alternative to the stereotypical religious conservative image. He was critical of Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed, saying all three were far too conservative.
His campaign focused on balancing the federal budget, strict crime laws, and establishing relations with North Korea. His candidacy was not expected to succeed in winning the Republican nomination due to the overwhelmingly large number of social conservatives in the Republican Party. He was, however, able to gain support. Fellow Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was supportive of his candidacy. Other supportive Republicans were hopeful Specter could trim the party's "far-right fringe". Although his campaign was ultimately unsuccessful at wooing conservatives, it was widely believed he could have had a strong showing among independents. On November 23, 1995, before the start of the primaries, Specter suspended his campaign to endorse Kansas Senator Bob Dole.
In 1995, he was the only Republican to vote to limit tax cuts to individuals with incomes of less than one million dollars. He voted against CAFTA. Specter also supported an increase in the federal minimum wage. He was a leading supporter of the U.S. Public Service Academy.
In October 1999, Specter was one of four Senate Republicans to vote in favor of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The treaty was designed to ban underground nuclear testing and was the first major international security pact to be defeated in the Senate since the Treaty of Versailles.
On October 11, 2002, Specter voted in favor of H.J.Res.114 authorizing the Iraq War.
In a 2002 PoliticsPA Feature story designating politicians with yearbook superlatives, he was named the "Toughest to Work For". In 2003, the Pennsylvania Report, a subscription-based political newsletter, described Specter as one of the "vanishing breed of Republican moderates", and described his political stance as "'Pennsylvania first' middle of-the-road politics", even though he was known as an "avid Republican partisan".
Activist groups interpreted his comments as warnings to President George W. Bush about the implications of nominating Supreme Court justices who were opposed to the Roe v. Wade decision. Specter maintained that his comments were a prediction, not a warning. He met with many conservative Republican senators, and based on assurances he gave them, he was recommended for the Judiciary Committee's chairmanship in late 2004. He officially assumed that position when the 109th Congress convened on January 4, 2005.
In 2004, Specter faced a challenge in the Republican primary election from conservative Congressman Pat Toomey, whose campaign theme was that Specter was not conservative enough. The match-up was closely watched nationally, being seen as a symbolic clash between the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party. However, most of the state and national Republican establishment, including the state's other senator at the time, Rick Santorum, closed ranks behind Specter. Specter was supported by President George W. Bush. Specter narrowly avoided a major upset with 51% of the primary vote. Once Specter defeated the challenge from the right, he was able to enjoy great support from independents and some Democrats in his race against U.S. Representative Joe Hoeffel, the Democratic nominee. Hoeffel trailed Specter in name recognition, campaign funds, and poll results. Although the two minor candidates in the race were seen as more conservative than Specter, they were only able to take 5.39 percent of the vote, and Specter was easily re-elected.
During the 2007–2008 National Football League season, Specter wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell concerning the destruction of New England Patriots "Spygate" tapes. Specter, a devout and longtime Philadelphia Eagles fan, wondered if there was a link between the tapes and their Super Bowl victory over the Eagles in 2005. On February 1, 2008, Goodell stated that the tapes were destroyed because "they confirmed what I already knew about the issue". Specter released a follow-up statement:
Specter stated that he was "personally opposed to abortion", but was "a supporter of a woman's right to choose". He received a 20% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2005 based on certain votes related to the regulation of abortion. In 2008, he received 100%.
On February 16, 2005, Specter announced that he had been diagnosed with an advanced form of Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer. Despite this, Specter continued working during chemotherapy. He ended treatment on July 22. Senator John Sununu (R-NH) shaved his head to show solidarity with Specter, who was temporarily bald while undergoing chemotherapy. On April 15, 2008, Specter announced his cancer had returned, at a stage "significantly less advanced than his Hodgkin's disease when it was originally diagnosed in 2005". He underwent a second round of chemotherapy, which ended on July 14, 2008.
On March 9, 2006, a revision of the USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law. It amended the process for interim appointments of U.S. Attorneys, a clause Specter wrote during his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The change allowed the Bush Administration to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without term limits, and without confirmation by the Senate. The Bush administration used the law to place at least eight interim attorneys into office in 2006. Specter claimed that the changes were added by staff member Brett Tolman. For more information, see dismissal of U.S. Attorneys controversy.
Specter was very critical of Bush's wiretapping of U.S. citizens without warrants. When the story first broke, he called the effort "inappropriate" and "clearly and categorically wrong". He said that he intended to hold hearings into the matter early in 2006, and had Alberto Gonzales appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer for the program. (However, Specter declined to force Gonzales to testify under oath.) On January 15, 2006, Specter mentioned impeachment and criminal prosecution as potential remedies if Bush proved to have broken the law, though he downplayed the likelihood of such an outcome.
On April 9, 2006, speaking on Fox News about the Bush administration's leaking of classified intelligence, Specter stated: "The President of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people." However, he did vote for the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which placed federal electronic searches almost entirely within the executive branch.
On immigration, Specter supported a "pathway to citizenship" and a "guest worker program", which opponents call amnesty. He introduced Senate bill S. 2611 (the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006) on April 6, 2006, which was passed by the Senate on May 25, 2006 before reaching a stalemate in the House.
Starting in 2007, Specter sponsored legislation to fix a long-standing inequity in American law that shut out a majority of U.S. Armed Forces service members convicted in courts-martial from appealing their convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2007, Specter co-sponsored the Equal Justice for United States Military Personnel Act of 2007 with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). But the bill failed in the 110th Congress, and Specter again co-sponsored the measure in the 2009 111th Congress. In December 2008, Specter was involved in a controversy as a result of telling "Polish jokes" at New York's Rainbow Room while speaking at the annual meeting of the Commonwealth Club.
Specter received a 61% rating from the AFL-CIO. He voted for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007. In early 2009, Specter announced he would not be voting for cloture on the same act in the 111th Congress. After Specter switched parties, he changed his position on the issue again, and wrote a letter to the unions indicating he supported card check legislation.
He supported affirmative action, and voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1991, receiving a 76 percent rating from the NAACP in 2008.
Specter voted in favor of the Senate's version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on February 10, 2009; he was one of only three Republicans to break ranks with the party and support the bill, which was favored by President Barack Obama and was unanimously supported by the Democratic senators. As a result of his support, many in the Republican mainstream began calling for his removal from office.
In October 2009, Specter called for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which he had supported in 1996. In November 2009, Specter introduced a bill to require televising U.S. Supreme Court proceedings, and explained that "[t]he Supreme Court makes pronouncements on constitutional and federal law that have direct impacts on the rights of Americans. Those rights would be substantially enhanced by televising the oral arguments of the Court so that the public can see and hear the issues presented."
However, on April 28, 2009, Specter stated that, "As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party". He said that he was switching party affiliation and would run as a Democrat in the 2010 election.
On May 3, 2009, Specter went on Meet the Press and was asked, "Would you support health care reform that puts up a government-run public plan to compete with a private plan issued by a private insurance company?" Specter said "no". Two months later, he changed his position.
Specter was up for re-election to the Senate in 2010, and expressed his plans to run again. On March 18, 2009, Specter said that he was not considering running as an independent. He said, "To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican, and I am running for re-election in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket." Subsequently, Specter's 2004 conservative GOP primary challenger, Pat Toomey, announced he would again run for the Republican nomination in the Republican senatorial primary.
On February 6, 2010, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party overwhelmingly endorsed Specter at the Democratic State Committee's annual endorsement convention, which was held in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He received more votes than Joe Sestak, winning more than 77% of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee members vote, far in excess of the 2/3 threshold needed to claim the endorsement. Sestak, however, went on to win the Democratic primary nomination on May 18.
Spurred by the 2010 Robbins v. Lower Merion School District case, in which two high schools admitted to secretly taking 66,000 webcam photos and screenshots of students in their homes on school-issued laptops, Specter held a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs on March 29, 2010. He said: "The issue is one of surreptitious eavesdropping. Unbeknownst to people, their movements and activities were under surveillance." He said that Lower Merion's use of laptop cameras for surveillance convinced him that new federal legislation was needed to regulate electronic privacy.
Specter then introduced legislation in April 2010 to amend the federal Wiretap Act to clarify that it is illegal to capture silent visual images inside another person's home. He said: "This is going to become law. You have a very significant invasion of privacy with these webcams, as more information is coming to light." Speaking on the floor of the Senate, he said:
Specter's career in the United States Senate ended on January 3, 2011, after his primary defeat to Joe Sestak. He was succeeded by Republican U.S. Representative Pat Toomey, who won the general election against Sestak.
On February 16, 2011, Specter wrote a letter to President Obama. As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he stated that Jonathan Pollard should be pardoned. He stated, "Unfortunately, spying is not an uncommon practice even between allies and friendly nations."
On December 21, 2011, Specter donated to Philadelphia University nearly 2,700 boxes of historical papers and memorabilia dating from his career as a Philadelphia district attorney to his service as a United States senator, including materials associated with his role as assistant counsel on the Warren Commission. The collection will be jointly managed by the University of Pittsburgh, which will house, organize, and manage the collection. The universities will collaborate on related education programing that will consequently provide access to the archives on both ends of the state. The Specter Collection will also support The Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy at Philadelphia University.
In May 2012, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical College presented Specter with the annual Public Service Award for his work in expanding mental health care.
On August 28, 2012, it was announced that Specter was battling a "serious form of cancer" and hospitalized. He was diagnosed six weeks earlier with a new form of the disease. On September 7, 2012, he was released from a Philadelphia hospital, but was expected to return there for additional treatment.
Specter died from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, aged 82, on October 14, 2012, at his home in Philadelphia. Statements of condolence were issued by President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President and Dr. Biden, the Office of the Governor of Pennsylvania, and by many of his colleagues and former opponents in the U.S. Congress, the Pennsylvania legislature, and the city of Philadelphia, among many others. Senator Specter, while he had been accused of alienating both parties due to certain positions he took and due to the two times he switched parties, among other issues, was nonetheless respected by many as a principled statesman who did much for his state and country, including by those in politics and the legislature, both in Pennsylvania and his home state, Kansas, as well as across the U.S. and beyond. He was the longest-serving of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senators. As a sign of this respect and out of mourning, President Obama ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff at public institutions and military bases in Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country on his day of interment.
US Squash announced it was building a new squash center in Philadelphia that is to be named the Arlen Specter US Squash Center. It is set to open in Fall 2020.
Arlen married Joan Levy in 1953.
Currently, Arlen Specter is 91 years, 3 months and 4 days old. Arlen Specter will celebrate 92nd birthday on a Saturday 12th of February 2022. Below we countdown to Arlen Specter upcoming birthday.