Senator Arlen Specter, a former Philadelphia District Attorney who chaired the Senate’s crime and drugs subcommittee, was soundly defeated yesterday by Rep. Joe Sestak in a Democratic primary election. Specter, 80, a longtime Republican, had changed parties last year in an effort to prolong his political career. Specter was well known for anticrime legislation in his early years in the Senate, sponsoring the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 and working to save the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention when it was threatened with elimination by the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
Two months ago, Specter and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il.), introduced legislation that seeks to increase the number of fugitives who are arrested and prosecuted. The Fugitive Information Networked Database Act of 2010 (FIND Act) is designed to coordinate state and local data on warrants into a national database. Specter was a member of the National Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, which recommended in 1973 longer incarceration for repeat violent criminals. That prompted Specter to introduce the Armed Career Criminal Act, which provides for a minimum 15-year sentence for those who have been convicted more than twice of a violent felony or serious drug crime. In the 1960s, as a young staff member of the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Specter was famous for devising the “single-bullet theory” explaining how Kennedy was killed. Specter was a close colleague of Vice President Joe Biden; the two often commuted by Amtrak together when they served in the Senate.