Arlen Specter’s Senatorial Papers Open to the Public, Available for Research
Jefferson and the University of Pittsburgh have opened Arlen Specter’s senatorial papers to the public. The notable collection documents major legislation and political activities during his 30-year tenure as Pennsylvania’s longest-serving senator.
Specter’s years in Congress were marked with memorable and influential events, including his work on the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991. He also held a front- row seat to many other defining political moments, such as President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, the decision to pursue action against Iraq and the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009.
“The collection is a treasure trove of inside information concerning some of the most important events in American history during the last 30 years,” says Evan Laine, director of Jefferson’s Law and Society Program and faculty director of the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service. “Access to it is a window into the making and forming of American history and policy.”
Specter donated the archive, which included some 1,400 boxes of papers, photos and memorabilia to Jefferson. After his death in 2012, our University partnered with the University of Pittsburgh—whose staff has considerable expertise in managing large political collections—to organize, process, digitize and store the collection. The 30-year agreement between the two universities advances the preservation of and access to the collection.
“The collection is a treasure trove of inside information concerning some of the most important events in American history during the last 30 years.”
— Evan Laine, director of Jefferson’s Law and Society Program
Through the efforts of Stan Gorski, director of Jefferson’s Gutman Library, and Ashley Laine Taylor, archivist at the University of Pittsburgh, the congressional papers were prepared for research use, culminating in the creation of a website, collection-finding aids and the digitization of the senator’s press releases and speeches. Selected material accessible on the website includes photographs and documents illustrating Specter’s involvement in topical areas of impact, including Supreme Court nominations, campaign finance reform, health care, the Clinton impeachment, foreign relations, immigration, LGBTQ+ rights and criminal justice reform.
Researchers already have recognized the collection as an invaluable resource regarding government and political history during Specter’s tenure. In November 2017, the Arlen Specter Center awarded four research fellowships, funded by Shanin Specter, prominent Philadelphia trial attorney and son of Arlen Specter.
The fellowship recipients have used the archives to explore issues ranging from the politics of congressional appropriations to senatorial preparation for Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Making his extensive papers available for research … could teach us important lessons for dealing with today’s complicated and divided political world.”
— Karen Albert, coordinator of the Specter Center
“Making his extensive papers available for research does a great service to those who want to better understand historical events, as well as Specter’s ability to work across the aisle, which could teach us important lessons for dealing with today’s complicated and divided political world,” says Karen Albert, coordinator of the Specter Center.
Also on view at the Specter Center is a specially commissioned replica Senate carpet designed by Jefferson MS in textile design student Robin Althouse, ’19, produced by Langhorne Carpet Co. and funded by Joan Specter. This new piece in the Roxboro House complements Specter’s Senate chair and replica desk that were already in place.