Ask Not What Arlen Specter Can Do for Sonia Sotomayor

In the fall of 1991, the political right was gunning for Arlen Specter. Four years earlier, he’d infuriated them by lending a critical assist to the successful campaign to kill Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination and he’d done little in the intervening time to make peace with them. Now, with Specter facing re-election in 1992, they were threatening him with a primary challenge. Specter seemed likely to withstand the challenge from Stephen Friend, a staunchly conservative state legislator, but he wasn’t in the mood to take chances. So when Clarence Thomas, George H.W. Bush’s choice to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court, was threatened by sexual harassment charges from Anita Hill, Specter took it upon himself to act as Thomas’ de facto defense attorney.