Former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter has died of cancer at age 82. The Republican-turned Democrat represented Pennsylvania for 30 years, playing key roles in confirmation battles for U.S. Supreme Court nominees.
First elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1980, Specter garnered national attention and Republican ire for resisting then-President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 Supreme Court pick, Robert Bork.
Specter again played a prominent role in President George H. W. Bush’s 1991 nomination of Clarence Thomas to the nation’s highest court, fiercely interrogating witness Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment.
Long known as a political moderate in a Republican Party that was shifting further to the right on social issues and other matters, Specter switched to the Democratic Party in 2009.
At the time, it was assumed he would have been hard pressed to survive a primary fight against fellow-Republican challengers the following year. He lost his 2010 primary election battle to a Democrat who lost the general election to Pennsylvania’s current Republican senator.
Before entering politics, Specter served as a prosecutor in Philadelphia. He also served as a counsel for the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Specter had several bouts of cancer in recent years. He is survived by a wife and two children.