Arlen Specter

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (TheBlaze/AP) — Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican-turned-Democrat who played a key role in many Supreme Court nominations, has died. He was 82.

His son Shanin Specter says his father died Sunday morning at his home in Philadelphia, from complications of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He had battled cancer and other health problems.

Specter served 30 years in the Senate, a Pennsylvania record.

In April 2009, he startled fellow senators when he announced he was switching to the Democratic side because he did not think he could win the nomination for a sixth term in the increasingly conservative GOP. He wound up losing the 2010 Democratic primary to then-Rep. Joe Sestak, who narrowly lost Specter’s seat to conservative Pat Toomey.

Specter was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee before the Democrats regained power in 2007.

In a statement, President Barack Obama said Specter was “always a fighter” and “fiercely independent – never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve.”

“When he announced that his cancer had returned in 2005, Arlen said, ‘I have beaten a brain tumor, bypass heart surgery and many tough political opponents and I’m going to beat this, too.’ Arlen fought that battle for seven more years with the same resolve he used to fight for stem-cell research funding, veterans health, and countless other issues that will continue to change lives for years to come,” Obama said. “Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Joan and the rest of the Specter family.”

Former President George W. Bush also offered condolences to Specter’s family and praised his public service.

“Arlen Specter loved our country and served it with integrity for three decades in the United States Senate,” Bush said in a statement. “Laura and I appreciate his contributions to America and are grateful for his many years of public service.”