Bullet passes through Specter
Arlen Specter, recently reelected Republican member of the Senate, appears to have survived a challenge to his claim to the chairmanship of the chamber's judiciary committee. After suggesting that judges opposing Roe v Wade would have a tough time getting confirmed shortly after the election (what was he thinking?) he's promised not to block nominees based on their abortion positions. He also suggested that he might support efforts to prevent Democrats from being able to block floor votes on judicial nominees. In return for this public castration, he is now expected to receive the support of the caucus for the chair in January.
I note that in his statement, Specter notes his support for Republican high court appointees, including O'Connor and Kennedy, who have voted to uphold Roe in some form and excluding Scalia. He voted for Rehnquist's elevation to chief and supported Thomas visibly in committee, but his statement appears to characterize O'Connor and Kennedy as abortion opponents. Arguably that's true, in terms of their personal commitments, but social conservatives have long considered both traitors to the cause.
As chair, Specter can still make things easy or difficult for nominees, even with his commitment to move quickly on nominations. With his characterization of O'Connor and Kennedy, I believe he still has some room to favor social moderates in committee (if he ever sees any) and create problems for socially conservative nominees without violating his "no litmus test" statement. Of course, I find the "litmus test" metaphor stupid.
At any rate, I'd be surprised if Specter would want the job so bad if he's not going to have any space to pursue his own interests within it. So, contrary to more pessimistic observers, I wouldn't count out Specter as a moderating influence on judicial confirmation over the next couple of years. This may become extremely important as justices' seats become vacant.