WASHINGTON â€”Â Arlen Specter, the irascible senator from Pennsylvania who was at the center of many of the Senateâ€™s most divisive legal battles â€” from the Supreme Court nominations of Robert H. Bork and Clarence Thomas to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton â€” only to lose his seat in 2010 after quitting the Republican Party to become a Democrat, died Sunday morning at his home in Philadelphia. He was 82.
The cause was complications of non-Hodgkinâ€™s lymphoma, his son Shanin said. Mr. Specter had previously fought Hodgkinâ€™s disease and survived a brain tumor and heart bypass surgery.
Hard-edged and tenacious yet ever the centrist, Mr. Specter was a part of American public life for more than four decades. As an ambitious young lawyer for theÂ Warren Commission, he took credit for originating the theory that a single bullet, fired by a lone gunman, struck both President John F. Kennedy and Gov. John B. Connally of Texas. Seconds later, Kennedy was struck by a fatal shot to the head from the same gunman, the commission found.
In the Senate, where he was long regarded as its sharpest legal mind,Â he led the Judiciary CommitteeÂ through a tumultuous period that included two Supreme Court confirmations, even while battling Hodgkinâ€™s disease in 2005 and losing his hair to chemotherapy.
Yet he may be remembered best for his quixoticÂ party switch in 2009Â and the subsequent campaign that cost him the Senate seat he had held for almost 30 years. After 44 years as a Republican, Mr. Specter, who began his career as a Democrat, changed sides because he feared a challenge from the right. He wound up losing in a Democratic primary; the seat stayed in Republican hands.
â€œArlen Specter was always a fighter,â€ President Obama said in a statement issued Sunday, calling Mr. Specter â€œfiercely independentâ€ and citing his â€œtoughness and determinationâ€ in dealing with his personal health struggles.
One of the few remaining Republican moderates on Capitol Hill at a time when the party had turned sharply to the right, Mr. Specter confounded fellow Republicans at every turn. He unabashedly supported Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, and championed biomedical and embryonicÂ stem cellÂ research long before he received his cancer diagnosis.
When he madeÂ a bid for the White HouseÂ in 1995, he denounced the Christian right as an extremist â€œfringeâ€ â€” an unorthodox tactic for a candidate trying to win votes in a Republican primary. The campaign was short-lived; Mr. Specter ended it when he ran out of cash. Years later, he said wryly of the other candidates, â€œI was the only one of nine people in New Hampshire who wanted to keep the Department of Education.â€
He enjoyed a good martini and a fast game of squash, and he was famous for parsing his words to wiggle out of tight spots. During Mr. Clintonâ€™s impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction, Mr. Specter, objecting to what he called a â€œsham trialâ€ without witnesses, signaled that he would vote to acquit.
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