Arlen Specter C’51, the longest-serving United States Senator in Pennsylvania’s history and a Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, died Sunday, October 14. He was 82.
“Arlen Specter was a giant in American politics, dedicating his life to public service,” said Michael A. Fitts, Dean of Penn Law. “He had unsurpassed experience in how Congress worked in relationship to the White House and the courts, and he was committed to passing this knowledge on to our students in his course on the separation of powers; Arlen continued to teach here until just over a week ago. I join the Penn community, to which he was so devoted, in extending my condolences to his family. We will miss him greatly.”
Specter was first elected to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate in 1980 and served five consecutive terms. He served on the Senate Judiciary Committee beginning in 1981, including as Chairman from 2005 to 2007, and participated in the confirmation hearings of 14 U.S. Supreme Court nominees and recommended 112 Pennsylvanians who have served on the federal district or circuit courts.
In addition to his work on the Judiciary Committee and other committee appointments, Specter was Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1995 to 1997, and served as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
He was appointed to the Law School’s faculty as a Visiting Professor of Law in 2011, where he taught an upper-level course on the relationship between Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, focusing on separation of powers and the confirmation process. He continued to teach the course this semester.
Before his election to the U.S. Senate, Specter served as assistant district attorney and as district attorney of Philadelphia, where he prosecuted corruption cases against Philadelphia magistrates and the Teamsters. From 1963 to 1964, Specter was assistant counsel to the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, where he originated the single-bullet finding. He began his legal career with the Philadelphia firm of Barnes, Dechert, Price, Meyers & Rhoads; after his term as district attorney he returned as a partner to what was then the firm of Dechert, Price & Rhoads (now Dechert LLP). Before law school, he served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations during the Korean War.
During his tenure in the Senate, Specter championed Pennsylvania’s economy and took an active interest in foreign affairs, meeting with dozens of world leaders as well as supporting appropriations to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and backing free trade agreements between the U.S. and under-developed countries.
A longtime moderate Republican known for his independent views, he switched to the Democratic party in 2010. He was diagnosed with stage IVB Hodgkin’s disease in 2005 but continued working full-time in the Senate. His wrote a book about the experience, Never Give In: Battling Cancer in the Senate.
In 2012 Specter published the book, Life Among the Cannibals: A Political Career, a Tea Party Uprising, and the End of Governing As We Know It, and an earlier book, Passion for Truth: From Finding JFK’s Single Bullet to Questioning Anita Hill to Impeaching Clinton. He also wrote and published numerous articles on the law during his career.
A native of Russell, Kansas, Specter earned his bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951, and his law degree from Yale University in 1956.
A funeral service is scheduled for noon Tuesday, October 16, at Har Zion Temple, 1500 Hagys Ford Road in Penn Valley and will be open to the public, although cameras and recording devices will be forbidden.
Interment will immediately follow at Shalom Memorial Park at Pine and Byberry Roads in Huntingdon Valley. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Philadelphia University or another charity.
He is survived by his wife, Joan, and his son, Shanin Specter L’84, a partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Kline and Specter, P.C. and an Adjunct Professor at Penn Law.