A bit of important US news to pass along today … the New York Times is reporting that US Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter is planning to step down from his post with the Court in order to return to his home State of New Hampshire for a life of retirement, giving President Barack Obama (who just celebrated his 100th day in office earlier this week) his first appointment to the Supreme Court. Altho Justice Souter was appointed to the Court by former President George Bush, Sr. (who hoped he would push forward the conservative agenda), Souter was a very liberal Justice who helped cement the liberal side of the Court in their rulings. It is expected that President Obama will select another liberal Justice to replace him but, as President Bush learned, once Justices join the Supreme Court they are free to rule in any way they see fit … the question becomes, who will President Obama select to join the Court?
Justice David H. Souter plans to retire at the end of the term in June, giving President Obama his first appointment to the Supreme Court, four people informed about the decision said Thursday night. Justice Souter, who was appointed in 1990 by a Republican president, the first George Bush, but became one of the most reliable members of the court’s liberal wing, has grown increasingly sour on Washington and intends to return to his home state, New Hampshire, according to the people briefed on his plans. One official said the decision might be announced as early as Friday. The departure will open the first seat for a Democratic president to fill in 15 years and could prove a test of Mr. Obama’s plans for reshaping the nation’s judiciary. Confirmation battles for the Supreme Court in recent years have proved to be intensely partisan and divisive moments in Washington, but Mr. Obama has more leeway than his predecessors because his party holds such a strong majority in the Senate. Replacing Justice Souter with a liberal would not change the basic makeup of the court, where he and three other justices hold down the left wing against a conservative caucus of four justices. Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate Republican appointee, often provides the swing vote that controls important decisions. While the White House Counsel’s office prepared privately to step up its efforts to search for a replacement, Mr. Obama said through a spokesman on Friday that he had no direct knowledge of Mr. Souter’s plans. “The President has not received a formal communication from Justice Souter,” Bill Burton, a White House spokesman, said Friday morning, “and he deserves the right to make his own announcement.” But Mr. Obama and his team have been thinking for a long time about whom he might put on the court. Among the people whose names have been floated in recent months are Elena Kagan, whom Mr. Obama named as his solicitor general, and two federal appeals court judges, Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Pamela Wood. Mr. Obama might feel a need to name a woman, given that the only female justice is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 76. Other names who might be considered by President Obama include Kathleen M. Sullivan of the Stanford Law School, a former dean there, and Judge Kim M. Wardlaw of the federal appeals court based in California. During the campaign, Mr. Obama spoke of his admiration of former Chief Justice Earl M. Warren, citing as a special virtue his practical political experience as a former governor of California. If Mr. Obama were to look to a political figure with a strong legal background, he could turn to an old friend, Deval Patrick, now the Massachusetts governor, Christine Gregoire, governor of Washington, or Jennifer M. Granholm, governor of Michigan. Justice Souter, 69, has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks because his discontent in Washington has been no secret. He was the only justice who had not hired clerks for the fall term. On Friday morning, Mr. Souter drove to work at the Supreme Court, leaving his apartment building near the waterfront in southwest Washington. He was behind the wheel of a green Volkswagon Passatt with New Hampshire plates, which he also is known for driving to and from the capital. He made no comments as he left his home. Friends said Thursday evening that he had often spoken of his intentions to be the court’s first retirement if Mr. Obama won the election last fall. He told friends he looked forward to returning to New Hampshire while he was young enough to enjoy climbing mountains and other outdoor activities. Justice Souter was confirmed as the 105th justice on Oct. 2, 1990. He replaced Justice William J. Brennan Jr., the court’s liberal leader, who abruptly retired on July 20, 1990, at age 84 after suffering a stroke.
Firstly, I have to say that I am happy that Justice Souter is retiring so that he can enjoy life rather than because of illness or death. In my estimation, he has served the United States of America with grace, honor and with great judiciousness. Souter has been instrumental in helping keep the Supreme Court balanced, even tipping the scale a bit on the side of rightness and fairness (again, in my estimation) on important rulings. He has proven a great servant for the country and I thank him for his service. Now … the fun part. I imagine President Obama has already considered who he will select to replace Justice Souter and I am dying to know who that person will be. If he does select a political figure with a strong legal background (ie. a governor) then he has a great short list to choose from. I would love to have Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm on the Supreme Court but Washington Governor Christine Gregoire would be an excellent choice as well. In the end, I’m sure Obama knows who he is going to appoint … we just have to wait until he makes that announcement. The retirement and appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice is very important here in the US (whether its citizens know it or not). I’m convinced that if same-sex marriage is going to be made legal for the entire country, it will come from the Supreme Court. I hope President Obama chooses wisely.