The National Constitution Center mourns the passing of Senator Arlen Specter, a true constitutional leader, as well as a dedicated supporter and friend.
Senator Specter’s longstanding commitment to the Constitution began in the earliest days of his career, when he enlisted in the United States Air Force and served the nation during the Korean War. After becoming a lawyer, he served as Philadelphia’s district attorney and as an integral member of the Warren Commission, investigating President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and developing the milestone single-bullet theory.
He was elected to the Senate in 1980 and became the longest-serving United States Senator in Pennsylvania history. As chairman and influential member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he wrote significant legislation dealing with constitutional law and played a leading role in the confirmation hearings of 14 U.S. Supreme Court nominees. In this capacity, Senator Specter had a profound and lasting impact on the current members of the Supreme Court, the interpretation of the Constitution, and our modern system of checks and balances.
During his three-decade tenure, Senator Specter also influenced American policy as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on Veteran Affairs. He led a major increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health. He championed Pennsylvania while remaining actively engaged in international relations. In 2006, he was named by TIME Magazine as one of the Ten Best Senators in America. Throughout his distinguished career in public service, Senator Specter was known for a steadfast pursuit of truth and an independent streak that ultimately led to his switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party.
Senator Specter’s devotion to the Constitution was further evidenced by his tireless efforts to establish the National Constitution Center. He paved the way by encouraging Congress to pass the Constitution Heritage Act of 1988, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan. Ten years later, he partnered with fellow Senators Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Slade Gorton of Washington—as well as former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and the Center’s founding CEO Joseph Torsella—to successfully persuade Congress to allocate the funds needed to build the Center. The creation of the National Constitution Center is just one example of Senator Specter’s ability and willingness to reach across the aisle and get things done—a hallmark of his political career.
Our pain at Senator Specter’s passing is augmented because we share the loss with Joan Specter, his wife, a former member of the Philadelphia City Council, and a longtime advocate and former staff member of the National Constitution Center.
The Center is honored to be so closely associated with a man whose contributions stand uniquely strong and proud in service to America and our Constitution. We will miss him dearly.