Thursday, May 06, 2010

Specter's Support In High Places

It's ancient history, you protest, but it's never too late to review one part of the record of a United States Senator running for re-election.

Especially if that Senator is Arlen Specter, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Democrat who is defending his seat in the Democratic primary against United States Representative Joe Sestak.

Much of the controversy in the heated race, whose winner will go up against former Club for Growth director Pat Toomey, has centered on the circumstances of Sestak's retirement from the Navy as a three-star Admiral. However, Sestak now has released a potent thirty second ad (video below) questioning Specter's motives for switching in 2009 from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.

There is little doubt that Pennsylvania's senior Senator jumped to the Democratic Party because he had little chance of surviving a GOP primary against Toomey, who nearly defeated him in the 2004 primary. Still, the state Democratic Party, Vice-President Biden (who, as a Senator from the adjacent state of Delaware, was friendly with Specter), and President Obama (who is especially fond of Senators antagonistic to him: see Lieberman, Joe; and Lincoln, Blanche) are actively supporting the incumbent.

As the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Specter had played a key role in the hearings held to consider the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court. To summarize:

In 1991, years after working for Thomas at the U.S. Department of Education, Hill, his former assistant, accused Thomas of sexual harassment.

Though eight years had passed since she had worked with him, Hill testified that her memories of their alleged interactions were vivid and vulgar, but the delayed accusations raised much speculation. They surfaced just after Thomas had been nominated to the Supreme Court.

When asked by Roberts why she didn't come forth sooner, Hill said, "It is amazing how much we tolerate in the workplace," explaining that people stay in problem jobs for a number of reasons, ranging from personal to financial....

In her testimony, Hill said of Thomas, "He spoke about acts he had seen and pornographic films, involving such matters as women having sex with animals and women having group sex and rape scenes."

The hearings polarized the nation with most people at the time naively believing Thomas, who effected a mood of righteous indignation, rather than the calm, thoughtful Hill. To this day, both the Supreme Court Justice and the law professor maintain they were being truthful. Note to those too young to remember this saga: if the same circumstances and hearings had occurred in the last decade, the nation would have believed the accuser and overwhelmingly opposed the nominee. Attitudes and understanding change over time.

Last August, Taylor Marsh argued

it’s important to remember that the one person most responsible for Thomas being on the court is Joe Biden, and I say this as one of his advocates, though based solely on his foreign policy acumen. Because if you view Biden’s part in the hearings again the political reality stacked up against Hill is impossible to ignore.

You can read about then-Judiciary Committee chairman Biden's unfortunate role here. More significantly, however, Marsh quoted a Court-watcher, Andrew Cohen, who had written

What kind of world does Justice Clarence Thomas live in? Alone among his colleagues on the Supreme Court, he declared Thursday in dissent in Safford v. Redding that an "abusive" and "humiliating" strip search of a middle school student for prescription Ibuprofen was actually a constitutional exercise by school officials who not only deserved immunity from liability but praise for their zealous dedication to student safety.

Less concerned about a forced and unnecessary intrusion into a young girl's pants and bra than he was about judicial intrusion into school safety policies, Thomas declared that the odious search was legal because administrators could have found what they were looking for. The majority ruling, he wrote, gives "judges sweeping authority to second-guess" school administrators trying to ensure the health and safety of students. His long dissent did not include a single sympathetic remark about the ordeal suffered by the victim in the case.

Marsh concluded

It is not shocking to me that Clarence Thomas didn’t find the groping of a young girl exceptional or that he didn’t think she had rights over the school. If you believed Anita Hill, the rest simply follows.

Of course it does. Clarence Thomas always knew he did what he was accused of; he simply believed the accusations were unfair, that he was being held to a higher standard than that of others, and that the accusations never would have come to light had he not been sufficiently respected that he was nominated for the highest court in the land.

In 1993, Kim A. Taylor, then a law professor at Stanford University and friend of Ms. Hill, explained to the Stanford University News Service

the committee adopted a process which effectively ceded control of the hearing to the Republicans and made possible the one-sided inquisition of Professor Hill that would eventually unfold.

Without basic rules of procedure, she said, the Democrats essentially permitted Thomas' Republican supporters to make unsupported speculations and ad hominem attacks on Hill, without anyone in the hearing room taking responsibility to point out the flaws in these types of attacks.

The lead Republican inquisitor was Senator Specter, and the Democrat most responsible for condoning the "unsupported speculations and ad hominem attacks," Senator Biden.

If times change and more Americans now recognize the travesty of having approved Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, perhaps Arlen Specter, favored to win the primary later this month, has changed, too. So perhaps it's not surprising that the same individual who patronizingly told supporters of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid "if women take a moment to realize that on every issue important to women, John McCain is not in their corner, that would help them get over it," would support the ever-pompous Arlen Specter for the party's nomination. Not surprising, only appalling.

1 comment:

Dan said...

So Clarence Thomas told you he committed sexual harassment? Or is it just so blatantly clear that he did because of how dissented in favor of school searches? Ridiculous

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