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Specter Wins Judiciary Panel Chairmanship

Conservative Republican senators on Thursday unanimously supported moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (search) as the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ending a grueling campaign Specter waged both publicly and privately to guarantee his seat.

The effort followed a weeks-long controversy that erupted when Specter made comments concerning judicial nominees that seemed to suggest President Bush would have a hard time getting his choices confirmed.

"Arlen Specter will be our next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (search). We are pleased to support Arlen in this matter," said outgoing chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Specter had been meeting behind closed doors with members of the committee and with Republican leaders in an effort to allay concerns about whether he would support the president's nominees and make sure they get quick action in the Senate.

To gain the seat that he was next in line to win, Specter had to put his assurances to conservatives in writing and then read them aloud to the public.

Among the pledges, Specter said: "I have not and will not use a litmus test to deny confirmation of pro-life nominees ... I have no reason to believe that I will be unable to support any individual the president finds worthy of nomination.

"I would not support committee action to bottle up legislation or a constitutional amendment, even one which I personally opposed."

The last pledge came in reference to other concerns that arose during an arduous vetting period for the Pennsylvania senator, who just won his fifth term in office. Among those concerns were a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and the so-called "nuclear option" supported by conservatives that would involve changing Senate rules to prevent Democrats from filibustering nominees.

"I have already registered my opposition to the Democrats' filibusters (search) ... it is my hope and expectation that we can avoid future filibusters and judicial gridlock with a 55-45 Republican majority," Specter said, reading from his pledge. "If a rule change is necessary to avoid filibusters, there are relevant recent precedents to secure rule changes with 51 votes."

During Bush's first term, Democrats were able to stop 10 judicial nominees through threats of a filibuster, while allowing more than 200 to be confirmed. But with at least one Supreme Court vacancy expected in the next four years, conservatives want to make sure the chairman of the committee handling the confirmation process lets Bush's choices enjoy the consent process.

Specter, who supports abortion rights (search), and caused a furor on Capitol Hill and among conservatives on the day after the presidential election, said he felt no pressure to make the commitments he did.

"I haven't been pressured at all in anything which I have said or done. There's nothing that I have said here today that I haven't repeated in many ways in years before," Specter said.

Still, the written agreement was a relief to some conservatives.

"This is something that has reduced to writing many of the things he has said to us verbally," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

"We're happy with the statement Arlen has made," Hatch said.

All nine Judiciary Republicans have said they will back Specter when the official committee chairmen vote comes next January. The rest of the 55-member GOP caucus could still reject Specter, but a mutiny is unlikely now that the panel will make its recommendation to endorse Specter.

The agreement by committee members to support Specter "represents the views of people at this time, on this day," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.