WASHINGTON – FOX NEWS SUNDAY GUEST HOST BRIT HUME: In the next few months, our first guests will gavel to order the confirmation hearings for the next Supreme Court justice nominee. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Senator Arlen Specter. He joins us from Philadelphia.
Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: Nice to be with you, Brit. Thanks for the invitation.
HUME: Glad to have you.
Senator, assuming a nomination this week or within the next several days, when do you think hearings will begin? When would you be able to bring them together?
SPECTER: Well, we haven't set the timing. We're flexible. We could do it in late August, but I think September would be preferable. That's been customary, and I think that would give us enough time to meet the date of having the new justice in place by the first Monday in October when the court starts its new term.
HUME: Do you have in mind anyone you would like to see nominated? Or can you describe a nominee, a type of nominee you would prefer?
SPECTER: Brit, I have decided to stay out of it. I think that I can do my job as chairman best if I do not make a recommendation.
The kind of a person I would like to see is somebody with a good educational background, a good professional background, good character.
I have expressed the view that it would be useful, in my judgment, to have somebody on the court who does not come from the graduates of the courts of appeals. When you look back at the court which handed down Brown v. Board of Education (search) unanimously, there was an ex-governor, there were three ex-senators, two attorneys general, a solicitor general, a professor and somebody from the SEC. I think it would be useful to have somebody with more breadth of experience.
HUME: A politician, is that what you're thinking?
SPECTER: Well, in the best sense, that is somebody who's had more experience, somebody who's been out in the world and has a more varied background. And "politician" is a good word in my lexicon, Brit.
HUME: Well, mine too. I don't know what I'd do without them.
Reporting on politicians is all I've ever done, Senator, so it's a good word to me too.
HUME: I want to ask you about Senator Schumer's remarks this week, in which he outlined a range of questions that he says he will insist that this next nominee answer. And they covered a broad range of issues, quite specific.
In the meantime, Republicans in the White House are pointing to the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who declined, although she was asked, to answer a very wide range of questions, including some of the same areas that Senator Schumer touched on.
Question to you, sir: Should this next nominee be required to answer questions in the areas where Ruth Bader Ginsburg (search) did not?
SPECTER: Without getting into the details as to what Justice Ginsburg answered, I think it inappropriate for a nominee to give an answer specifically as to how he or she would decide a specific case.
When someone uses a word like "insist," that's a pretty strong word, and no senator has the power to insist that anything happen. A senator can ask any question that the senator wants to ask, but then it's up to the nominee to respond.
HUME: All right. Let me put the question to you a somewhat different way.
Would you believe, then, that a nominee who declined to answer questions of the kind that now Justice Ginsburg declined to answer should then be -- that that could then fairly be a grounds for voting against that nominee or perhaps even filibustering that nominee?
SPECTER: Well, Brit, there are too many questions which she didn't answer. But if you move over into the context of saying, "How are you going to decide Roe v. Wade (search) if it comes up?", or "How are you going to decide a specific on the religious issues?", I do not think that a nominee would be in jeopardy of being defeated if the nominee said, "I'm not going to answer that kind of a question."
HUME: Well, of course, Senator, the questions would more be likely to ask that judge's opinion on abortion or on the broader question of the right to privacy, from which the court has found that the right to an abortion stems. So, the questions would probably be more general than that.
What about that? Justice Ginsburg declined to answer a lot of questions like that as well.
SPECTER: Well, if the senator is artful in the questions and pursues them on some of the subtle lines, I think that there are those of us who have gotten a fair amount of information in the past.
And my own judgment has been, Brit, that a nominee answers about as many questions as the nominee feels he or she has to answer. Justice Scalia would answer hardly anything, wouldn't even give his -- he gave his name and rank and not his serial number. Chief Justice Rehnquist, on confirmation, answered a great many questions. He had 33 votes against him, so that it was a delicate matter.
So, it's not possible to generalize with precision, but I think that the nominees do not have to get specific in their answers on specific cases.
HUME: Let me take you to this question of the so-called nuclear option (search), or the constitutional option, as a number of Republicans prefer to call it. It has been a mystery all along, your feelings about that and whether you might vote against that if it were invoked by the majority of your party, the vice president in the chair and all that.
Some people say it's unimaginable that you, Senator Specter, given the level of help you got from the president in your primary fight and the support you got from Senator Santorum and your role as the man who is supposed to help guide the president's nominees through the Senate, that you would oppose your party when it came down to that.
What about that, Senator?
SPECTER: Well, I'm very appreciative of the help of the president and my colleague Senator Santorum, but I'm very mindful of my duties as a senator and on separation of powers.
And the tradition and history of the filibuster has been very important. It preserved presidential power when Andrew Johnson was impeached, and it preserved judicial power when Justice Chase was impeached back in 1805.
And I spoke very forcefully on this issue on a number of occasions on the Senate floor and urged my colleagues to throw off the straitjacket. I thought that there were many Democrats who did not want to filibuster. It turned out that I was right on that. A number of them came forward, so that we were able to strike a balance preserving the right of filibuster and avoiding the so-called constitution or nuclear option.
And I think there are many times when silence by a senator is a good thing. It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it can be a good thing.
HUME: Well, it sounds, from what you've said to me, with your history lesson there, it sounds like you would likely be a "no" vote.
SPECTER: Well, it is very fact-oriented, Brit. If you had a four-to-four split on the court, a dysfunctional court, and you had a filibuster which was really tying up the Supreme Court, that would weigh very heavily on one side.
If, in an artful way, you can persuade your colleagues to break the logjam -- and bear this in mind, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I brought forward those candidates who were very controversial, urged their confirmation on the floor. We got most of them confirmed, and it worked out very well.
And sometimes the less said, the better. And I'm not going to say anything more on this program.
HUME: Well, you can't blame me for trying, Senator.
SPECTER: No, no.
HUME: Let me ask you about another matter. You've mentioned balance on the court. Justice O'Connor was viewed as a moderate, centrist justice.
Do you think the president is under any obligation by this or any other nomination to preserve the existing balance on the court?
SPECTER: I think that's a very weighty factor for him to consider.
SPECTER: Because the Supreme Court decides all of the cutting- edge questions.
I think that the way our government has evolved, the Supreme Court has taken too much power. They have declared too many acts of Congress unconstitutional because, as the court says, Congress hasn't thought it through. Well, who is the court, really, in our system of government to say that they can think it through but the Congress can't think it through? So that judicial restraint is very important.
But the president is in his second term. Many people contributed to his election. But now I think he stands above the fray, and he stands in a position where he has to put a person on not where the president would be beholden to any group, no matter how much they contributed to his election, but something in the national interest.
And when you have these very delicate questions, it's helpful to the country to have somebody who is a swing vote, which maintains the balance.
HUME: Well, but, Senator, you just said that you thought the court had gone too far. She was often a swing vote in favor of what a lot of critics have called judicial activism and decisions stemming from that. It sounded as if you were making an argument for a judicial restraint, judicial conservative?
SPECTER: Well, I do make that argument, especially when it comes to acts of Congress.
But where you have cases like the right to die and whether you're going to execute 17-year-olds, what you're going to do with medical marijuana, it is important to have somebody who is not ideologically bound in one camp or the other on one extreme or the other.
And I think that to achieve what the president wants -- and that is a dignified proceeding and somebody who will add luster to the court -- that he's going to try to find somebody to maintain that kind of balance.
HUME: Senator Specter, a pleasure to have you. Thank you very much.
SPECTER: Thank you, Brit. Nice being with you. Thank you.