David Hackett Souter ( ; born September 17, 1939) is a retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
. He served from October 1990 to his retirement in June 2009. Appointed by US President George H. W. Bush
to fill the seat that had been vacated by William J. Brennan Jr.
, Souter sat on both the Rehnquist
and the Roberts
Souter grew up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and attended Harvard College
; Magdalen College, Oxford
; and Harvard Law School
. After briefly working in private practice, he moved to public service. He served as a prosecutor (1966–1968), in the New Hampshire Attorney General
's office (1968–1976), as the Attorney General of New Hampshire (1976–1978), as an Associate Justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire
(1978–1983), as an Associate Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court
(1983–1990) and briefly as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Souter was nominated to the Supreme Court without a significant "paper trail", but was expected to be a conservative justice. Within a few years of his appointment, Souter moved towards the ideological center. He eventually came to vote reliably with the Court's liberal wing
In mid-2009, after Democrat Barack Obama
took office as U.S. president, Souter announced his retirement from the Court. He was succeeded by Sonia Sotomayor
. Souter has continued to hear cases by designation
at the circuit court level
Early life and education
Souter was born in Melrose, Massachusetts
, on September 17, 1939, the only child of Joseph Alexander Souter (1904–1976) and Helen Adams (Hackett) Souter (1907–1995).
[Yarbrough, Tinsley E]
"David Hackett Souter: Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court"
Oxford University Press, 2005,
Cornell University Law School
At age 11, he moved with his family to their farm in Weare, New Hampshire
Souter graduated second in his class from Concord High School
in 1957. He then attended Harvard University
, graduating in 1961 with an A.B.
''magna cum laude
'' in philosophy
and writing a senior thesis on the legal positivism
of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
While at Harvard, Souter was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa
. He was selected as a Rhodes Scholar
and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree (later promoted to a Master of Arts
degree, as per tradition
) from Magdalen College, Oxford
, in 1963. He then entered Harvard Law School, graduating in 1966.
In 1968, after two years as an associate at the law firm of Orr & Reno in Concord, New Hampshire
, Souter realized he disliked private practice
and began his career in public service by accepting a position as an Assistant Attorney General of New Hampshire. As Assistant Attorney General he prosecuted
criminal cases in the courts. In 1971, Warren Rudman
, then the Attorney General of New Hampshire
, selected Souter to be the Deputy Attorney General. Souter succeeded Rudman as New Hampshire Attorney General in 1976.
In 1978, with the support of his friend Rudman, Souter was named an Associate Justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire
As a judge on the Superior Court he heard cases in two counties and was noted for his tough sentencing.
With four years of trial court experience, Souter was appointed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court
as an Associate Justice in 1983.
Shortly after George H. W. Bush was sworn in as President, he nominated Souter for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
. Souter had had seven years of judicial experience at the appellate level, four years at the trial court level, and ten years with the Attorney General's office. He was confirmed by unanimous consent of the Senate
on April 27, 1990.
U.S. Supreme Court appointment
President George H. W. Bush originally considered appointing Clarence Thomas
to Brennan's seat, but decided that Thomas did not have enough experience as a judge.
[Greenberg, Jan Crawfor]
Clarence Thomas: A Silent Justice Speaks Out
ABC News, September 30, 2007
Warren Rudman, who had since been elected to the U.S. Senate, and former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu
, then Chief of Staff to President Bush, suggested Souter, and were instrumental in his nomination and confirmation. At the time, few observers outside New Hampshire knew who Souter was,
Souter Anchoring the Court's New Center
''The New York Times'', July 3, 1992
although he had reportedly been on Reagan's short list of nominees for the Supreme Court seat that eventually went to Anthony Kennedy
Souter was seen as a "stealth justice" whose professional record in the state courts provoked little real controversy and provided a minimal "paper trail" on issues of U.S. Constitutional law. Bush saw the lack of a paper trail as an asset, because one of President Reagan
's nominees, Robert Bork
, had been rejected by the Senate partially because of his extensive written opinions on controversial issues. Bush nominated Souter on July 25, 1990, saying that he did not know Souter's stances on abortion
, affirmative action
, or other issues.
[US Supreme Court](_blank)
Senate confirmation hearings were held beginning on September 13, 1990. The National Organization for Women
opposed Souter's nomination and held a rally outside the Senate during his confirmation hearings.
The president of NOW, Molly Yard
, testified that Souter would "end freedom for women in this country."
For Liberals, Easy Does It With Roberts
''The Washington Post'', September 19, 2005
Souter was also opposed by the NAACP
, which urged its 500,000 members to write letters to their senators asking them to oppose the nomination.
N.A.A.C.P. Urges Souter's Defeat, Citing Earlier Statements on Race
''The New York Times'', September 22, 1990
In Souter's opening statement before the Judiciary Committee of the Senate he summed up the lessons he had learned as a judge of the New Hampshire courts:
Despite the opposition, Souter won confirmation easily.
[Taranto, James and Leo, Leonar]
Free Press, 2004
The Senate Judiciary Committee
reported out the nomination by a vote of 14–3, the Senate confirmed the nomination by a vote of 90–9, and Souter took his seat shortly thereafter, on October 9, 1990.
The nine senators voting against Souter included Ted Kennedy
and John Kerry
from Souter's neighboring state of Massachusetts
. These senators, along with seven others, painted Souter as a right-winger in the mold of Robert Bork.
U.S. Supreme Court career
Souter opposed having cameras in the Supreme Court during oral arguments because he said questions would be taken out of context by the media and the proceedings would be politicized.
[On Cameras in Supreme Court, Souter Says, 'Over My Dead Body'](_blank)
''The New York Times'', March 30, 1996
He also served as the court's designated representative to Congress on at least one occasion, testifying before committees of that body about the court's needs for additional funding to refurbish its building and for other projects.
At the time of Souter's appointment, John Sununu assured President Bush and conservatives that Souter would be a "home run" for conservatism. In his testimony before the Senate, he was thought by conservatives to be a strict constructionist
on constitutional matters, but he portrayed himself as a moderate who disliked radical change and attached a high importance to precedent. In the state attorney general's office and as a state Supreme Court judge, he had never been tested on matters of federal law.
After the appointment of Clarence Thomas
, Souter moved to the ideological middle.
In two 1992 cases, Souter voted with the Court's liberal wing: ''Planned Parenthood v. Casey
'', in which the Court reaffirmed the essential holding in ''Roe v. Wade
''; and ''Lee v. Weisman
'', in which Souter voted against allowing prayer
at a high school graduation ceremony. In ''Planned Parenthood v. Casey'', Kennedy considered overturning ''Roe'' and upholding all the restrictions at issue in ''Casey.'' Souter considered upholding all the restrictions but was uneasy about overturning ''Roe''. After consulting with O'Connor, the three (who came to be known as the "troika") developed a joint opinion that upheld all the restrictions in ''Casey'' except the mandatory notification of a husband while asserting the essential holding of ''Roe'', that the Constitution protects the right to an abortion.
By the late 1990s, Souter began to align himself more with Stephen Breyer
and Ruth Bader Ginsburg
, although as of 1995, he sided on more occasions with the more liberal justice John Paul Stevens
than either Breyer or Ginsburg, both Clinton appointees.
Empty Souter-Supreme Court Justice David Souter
''National Review'', September 11, 1995
O'Connor began to move to the center. On death penalty cases, worker rights cases, criminal rights cases, and other issues, Souter began voting with the Court's liberals, and came to be considered part of the Court's liberal wing. Because of this, many conservatives view Souter's appointment an error of the Bush presidency. For example, after widespread speculation that President George W. Bush intended to appoint Alberto Gonzales
—whose perceived views on affirmative action and abortion drew criticism—to the Court, some conservative Senate staffers popularized the slogan "Gonzales is Spanish for Souter".
A ''Wall Street Journal'' opinion piece ten years after Souter's nomination called Souter a "liberal jurist" and said that Rudman took "pride in recounting how he sold Mr. Souter to gullible White House Chief of Staff John Sununu as a confirmable conservative. Then they both sold the judge to President Bush, who wanted above all else to avoid a confirmation battle." Rudman wrote in his memoir that he had "suspected all along" that Souter would not "overturn activist liberal precedents."
Sununu later said that he had "a lot of disappointment" in Souter's positions on the court and would have preferred him to be more like Scalia.
''Planned Parenthood v. Casey''
In 1992's ''Planned Parenthood v. Casey
'', Souter wrote that ''Roe v. Wade
'' should not be overturned because it would be "a surrender to political pressure... So to overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason to re-examine a watershed decision would subvert the Court's legitimacy beyond any serious question."
''Bush v. Gore''
In 2000, Souter voted along with three other justices in ''Bush v. Gore
'' to allow the presidential election recount to continue while the majority voted to end the recount. The decision allowed the declaration of Bush
as the winner of the election in Florida to stand.
wrote, controversially, of Souter's reaction to ''Bush v. Gore'' in his 2007 book ''The Nine
The above passage was disputed by Souter's longtime friend Warren Rudman. Rudman told the ''New Hampshire Union Leader'' that while Souter was discomfited by ''Bush v. Gore'', it was not true that he had broken down into tears over it.
Relationship with other justices
Souter worked well with Sandra Day O'Connor
and had a good relationship with both her and her husband during her days on the court.
He generally had a good working relationship with every justice, but was particularly fond of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
, and considered John Paul Stevens
to be the "smartest" justice.
Even though Souter had never traveled outside the United States during his years with the Supreme Court, he still gained significant recognition abroad. In 1995, a series of articles based on his written opinions and titled "Souter Court" was published by a Moscow legal journal, ''The Russian Justice''. Those were followed by a book, written in Russian and bearing Souter's name in the title. Justice of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation
Yury Danilov, reviewing the 2nd edition of the book in a Moscow English-language daily, made the following remark on Souter's position in ''Bush v. Gore
'': "In a most critical and delicate situation, David Souter had maintained the independence of his position and in this respect had become a symbol of the independence of the judiciary."
Long before the election of President Obama, Souter had expressed a desire to leave Washington, D.C
., and return to New Hampshire.
The election of a Democratic president in 2008 made Souter more inclined to retire, but he did not want to create a situation in which there would be multiple vacancies at once.
Souter apparently became satisfied that no other justices planned to retire at the end of the Supreme Court's term in June 2009.
As a result, in mid-April 2009 he privately notified the White House of his intent to retire at the conclusion of that term.
Souter sent Obama a retirement letter on May 1, effective at the start of the Supreme Court's 2009 summer recess.
Later that day Obama made an unscheduled appearance during the daily White House press briefing to announce Souter's retirement.
[Obama Announces Souter Retirement]
''The New York Times'', Caucus Blog, May 1, 2009
On May 26, 2009, Obama announced his nomination of federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor
. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 6.
On June 29, 2009, the last day of the Court's 2008–09 term, Chief Justice Roberts read a letter to Souter that had been signed by all eight of his colleagues as well as retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
, thanking him for his service, and Souter read a letter to his colleagues reciprocating their good wishes.
Souter, Sandra Day O'Connor
, and Anthony Kennedy are the Supreme Court's only living former justices.
Post-Supreme Court career
As a Supreme Court justice with retired status, Souter remains a judge and is entitled to sit by designation
on lower courts. Since his retirement from the Supreme Court, he regularly sits by designation on panels of the First Circuit Court of Appeals
, based in Boston and covering Maine, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and his native New Hampshire, generally in February or March of each year.
Once named by ''The Washington Post
'' as one of ''Washington's 10 Most Eligible Bachelors'',
Souter has never married, though he was once engaged.
In 2004, Souter was mugged while jogging between his home and the Fort Lesley J. McNair
Army Base in Washington, DC. He suffered minor injuries from the event, visiting the MedStar Washington Hospital Center
for treatment. The issue led to public questioning of the Supreme Court Police
's security detail, which was not present at the time.
According to Jeffrey Toobin
's 2007 book ''The Nine'', Souter has a decidedly low-tech lifestyle: He writes with a fountain pen
, does not use e-mail, and has no cell phone or answering machine
. While he was serving on the Supreme Court, he preferred to drive back to New Hampshire for the summer where he enjoyed mountain climbing.
Souter has also done his own home repair
[A No-Frills Embrace for a Low-Key Justice](_blank)
''The New York Times'', May 3, 2009
and is known for his daily lunch of an apple and yogurt.
Former Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse wrote of Souter: "to focus on his eccentricities—his daily lunch of yogurt and an apple, core and all; the absence of a computer in his personal office—is to miss the essence of a man who in fact is perfectly suited to his job, just not to its trappings. His polite but persistent questioning of lawyers who appear before the court displays his meticulous preparation and his mastery of the case at hand and the cases relevant to it. Far from being out of touch with the modern world, he has simply refused to surrender to it control over aspects of his own life that give him deep contentment: hiking, sailing, time with old friends, reading history."
In early August 2009, Souter moved from his family farm house in Weare
to a Cape Cod-style
single-floor home in Hopkinton, New Hampshire
, a town adjacent to the state capital of Concord
. Souter told a disappointed Weare neighbor that the two-story family farmhouse was not structurally sound enough to support the thousands of books he owns and that he wished to live on one level.
[Off the Bench, Souter Leaves Farmhouse Behind](_blank)
''The New York Times'', August 3, 2009
Over the years, Souter has served on hospital boards and civic committees. He is a former honorary co-chair of the We the People
National Advisory Committee.National Advisory Committee
!-- accessed 2009-05-10 -->
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* Lost Liberty Hotel
* Abraham, Henry J., ''Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court.'' 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). .
* Cushman, Clare, ''The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995.'' 2nd ed. (Supreme Court Historical Society; Congressional Quarterly Books, 2001). .
* Frank, John P., ''The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions'' (Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel, editors). (Chelsea House Publishers, 1995). .
* Hall, Kermit L., ed. ''The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States.'' (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). .
* Martin, Fenton S., and Goehlert, Robert U., ''The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography.'' (Congressional Quarterly Books, 1990). .
* Urofsky, Melvin I., ''The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary.'' (New York: Garland Publishing 1994). .
Issue positions and quotes
Supreme Court Justice Souter To Retire
Nina Totenberg, NPR, May 3, 2009
Online Symposium: Justice Souter and the First Amendment
First Amendment Center, July 23, 2009
The Selling of Judge David Souter to Movement Conservatives
David Souter discusses his post-Supreme Court future
in the ''Harvard Law Record'', October 2, 2009
Justice David Souter's Harvard Commencement Remarks
''Harvard Gazette'', May 27, 2010
Supreme Court Associate Justice Nomination Hearings on David Hackett Souter in September 1990
United States Government Publishing Office
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