May 1st, 2009
09:08 AM ET
9 years ago

Souter known as low-key, fierce defender of individual rights

Conservatives say Supreme Court Justice David Souter, nominated by a Republican, was a dissapointment.

Conservatives say Supreme Court Justice David Souter, nominated by a Republican, was a dissapointment.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - David who? was the initial reaction of Americans to a little-known judge from New Hampshire named in 1990 to sit on the nation's highest court. Even the nominee didn't know what to think when President George H.W. Bush called him with the news, telling supporters, "I was in a state of virtual shock."

David Hackett Souter had only been on a federal appeals court bench for a few months when he was tapped to replace liberal lion William Brennan, a choice many Republicans hoped would move the high court rightward and reshape American law.

"I think that is good news for all of us who are committed to the Constitution of the United States," said President Bush. "He'll be a superb justice for the Supreme Court."

In reality, Souter was in many ways a typical, old-fashioned Yankee Republican - a moderate with an independent, even quirky streak. Whether he became more liberal in his views after joining the Supreme Court, as many conservatives believe, may depend on your politics.

"Justice Souter will never escape the label of having been an enormous disappointment, a traitor to the right," said Thomas Goldstein, a Washington appellate attorney and founder of "It instead created the opportunity to entrench a series of more liberal rulings. So he became the right's greatest failure and we will forever hear the mantra 'No More Souters' from conservatives."

Colleagues dismiss suggestions that liberal colleagues on the bench helped move Souter to the left.

Full story

Related: Souter to retire, source says

Filed under: Supreme Court
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Mark

    Bush 41 was absolutely right; Mr Justice Souter has been a superb justice and good news for all of us who are committed to the Constitution. Compare his decisions to the bald, unrepentant partisanship of Scalia et al. in Bush v. Gore and the intellectually sloppy, retrograde and downright embarrassing work of Clarence Thomas, and one quickly realizes what an invaluable asset to the nation Souter has been.

    May 1, 2009 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  2. RR

    This is an outright lie! Souter voted in Kelo v New London to do away with property rights and allow the government to take an individuals legal, private property and give it to another private entity!

    Protector of rights, my foot!

    May 1, 2009 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  3. barking republican ankle biters

    I nominate Johnathan Turley to be his replacement.

    May 1, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  4. A little sad

    Chipster May 1st, 2009 10:24 am ET

    Justices Alito and Scalia ..... They should both be stripped naked on the steps of the Justice Department Building with a copy of the U. S. Constitution to cover themselves. Maybe they would appreciate it more.

    Not sure about Alito, but I think Scalia would enjoy it.

    I'm gonna totally enjoy the right wing panic over this. Anybody for popcorn?

    May 1, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  5. Retired Army in San Antonio

    A Fellow Citizen -- May 1st, 2009 10:13 am ET

    Souter penned Kelo v. City of New London.....................Good riddance.


    I'm sorry Sir, but you are WRONG!

    While Souter was a part of the majority in 'Kelo', it was John Stevens who wrote the majority opinion with Anthony Kennedy writing a concurring opinion.

    Accuracy brings credibility; you may want to be more accurate in the future......

    May 1, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  6. Some Republican Guy

    Oh no. He's going to appoint one of the evil Obamabots. Then the supreme court will make us all marry gay people and have abortions! Don't stand for it, people. Boycott ACORN before its too late! Have a nice day!

    May 1, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  7. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    Souter a "fierce defender of individual rights?"

    Yeah, right.

    In Kelo v. City of New London, Souter supported the legalised theft of someone's private property–the so-called right of eminent domain–so a large corporation could "economically develop" the land. The Court's justification, Souter concurring, was that "if an economic project creates new jobs, increases tax and other city revenues, and revitalizes a depressed (even if not blighted) urban area, it then qualifies as a public use."

    In other words, screwing individuals is fine as long as some city can raise taxes as a result of it.

    I don't see a lot of respect for individual rights in that.

    May 1, 2009 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  8. Larry

    Kevin, no, not really.

    May 1, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  9. habitual

    Not gonna happen Kevin.

    May 1, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  10. The Truth

    Souter has been a disaster but whatever anti-American anarchist Obama nominates will be a mega-disaster.

    May 1, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  11. Jake

    so happy he waited until Bush was NOT appointing his replacement!

    May 1, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  12. Tony

    The next appointee will be a woman. It needs to be a liberal. The court has been taken over by dangerous right wing radicals because we had a dangerous right wing radical as president for 8 years.

    You'll be missed Justice Souter. You are a man of principle, unlike some of your colleagues.

    May 1, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  13. John

    Justice David Souter,

    That is a Good decision for you and for our country.

    You have done a great job and service to our country. But older Justices are not as sharp as the younger ones. It has been proved by medical science that after the age of 65, memory, intelligence and thinking process diminishes. Brain starts to degenerate.

    Justice and Adjudication is a task which needs the highest standard and quality, because it affects the entire society and all people.

    Good decision your honor.

    May 1, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  14. The Voice

    First appointment for Obama coming!! This should tilt the balance pretty hard on the right wingers.

    Best news of the day!

    May 1, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  15. Mississippi Mike

    I always thought he was a radical left-wing extremist. I guess that is pretty moderate to the folks at CNN.

    May 1, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  16. Jones

    I love how everyone who isn't a red-blooded, closet racist, ignorance spewing Republican is a traitor; even to this day. There's another group who would call you a traitor if you didn't agree with everything they said...they're called fascists.

    May 1, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  17. John in Ohio

    "There should never……I repeat…..never be a left-leaning or right-leaning judge. Their job is to make decisions based on what is written in the constitution. Period. There should be no personal feelings involved."

    And yet, Scalia.

    Seriously, Roberts and Alito aren't *that* bad, compared to Scalia. That guy is worse then Cheney.

    May 1, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  18. JPC

    It's time for a lot of the other ones to retire too. Once they reach retirement age, they should do exactly that….RETIRE! They probably don't HAVE to work. Give the job up for the people who NEED to work. This goes for all of the other OLD people in government too. IF YOU DON'T NEED THE JOB…..GIVE IT UP TO SOMEONE WHO DOES!

    May 1, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  19. M

    Mr. President,

    ANN Claire Williams (US Court of Appeals Judge 7th Circuit). She is female and considered a Moderate.

    May 1, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  20. Jon

    All you people are nuts. Souter was a good judge. Fair and moderate. I hope Obama appoint another fair and moderate judge. The last thing this country needs is more for left or right wings zealot wack jobs in high positions.

    May 1, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  21. TSRVT

    Souter will be missed. I see the usual right-wing notwits are out this morning posting here. I hope his replacement is far more liberal, and causes you all to suffer a collective stroke.

    May 1, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  22. Neil

    Justice Souter never tried to represent political ideologies on the court. He is a critical legal scholar devoted to the rule of law. The Republicans thought they were getting a supporter because Souter's detractors called him too "conservative" in his rulings because he needed more than a whim to displace prior rulings. They were surprised to discover he didn't much care for mixing politics with the court's processes. However inadvertently, Bush the Elder installed a great legal mind on the court, and kept the image of the Supreme Court relatively unsullied by political pressures of the day.

    May 1, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  23. Clark

    Historically, trying to nominate justices because of their political or idealogical positions has been fraught with frustration for presidents. It has been difficult to predict just how justices would actually vote on the court once they were in...for life. The classic example is Earl Warren, rewarded with a court seat by Eisenhower because he was the head of his Republican election campaign in California. Known for being a conservative governor, Warren ended up being one of the most liberal justices in our history. Sandra Day O'Connor is another. Although some do not, many end up rising above the politics-du-jour once confirmed.

    All presidents want to stack the court in their favor, but few have actually accomplished it. Let's hope we get a fair justice who protects the constitution and is able to interpret and apply it to the reality of current times.

    May 1, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
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