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Senate Judiciary Committee in controversy

WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Pennsylvania's senior U.S. senator has less than two weeks to shore up support for his ascension to the top spot on the powerful Judiciary Committee.

Republican senators will meet week after next to discuss committee assignments, and already social conservatives are demanding Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., be blocked from succeeding Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as head of the panel that handles federal court nominations, the New York Times reported Saturday.

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The right-wing uproar arose after Specter said Wednesday that anti-abortion nominees to federal courts would stand little chance of getting past the Judiciary Committee.

That statement was widely seen as a signal to his pro-choice base that he would stand firm with committee Democrats in opposing nominees such as Miguel Estrada and Janet Brown, both of whose nominations were scotched after they expressed reservations about abortion.

While senatorial custom dictates Specter get the panel's top spot, a gathering storm of resistance could force the Senate's leadership to find another, less divisive, choice, Senate leaders said.

"He is not out of the woods,'' said one Senate aide.

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Specter has been contacting his colleagues in an effort to calm the situation.

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