David Hackett Souter: Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court

David Hackett Souter: Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court

David Hackett Souter: Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court

David Hackett Souter: Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court

Synopsis

When the first President Bush chose David Hackett Souter for the Supreme Court in 1990, the slender New Englander with the shy demeanor and ambiguous past was quickly dubbed a "stealth candidate". Since his appointment, Souter has embraced a flexible, evolving, and highly pragmatic judicialstyle that embraces a high regard for precedent--even liberal decisions of the Warren and Burger Courts with which he may have personally disagreed. Ultimately, Yarbrough contends, Souter has become the principal Rehnquist Court opponent of the originalist, text-bound jurisprudence that many of themore conservative Justices profess to champion. Sifting through Souter's opinions, papers of the Justice's contemporaries and other relevant records and interviews, esteemed Supreme Court biographer Tinsley Yarbrough here gives us the real David Souter, crafting a fascinating account of one of theheretofore most elusive Justices in the history of the Court.

Excerpt

When the first president bush chose David Hackett Souter to replace Justice William J. Brennan Jr. on the Supreme Court in 1990, commentators (with considerable justification) quickly dubbed the slender New Englander with the dark eyes and shy smile a “stealth candidate,” after the Air Force bomber designed to evade even the most sophisticated surveillance technology. the Bush White House did not want a repeat of the 1987 debacle in which President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork, the acerbic former Yale law professor whose well-documented and highly controversial views on abortion, sexual privacy, and other hotbutton issues had provoked a firestorm of opposition, failed miserably. John Sununu, Bush’s chief of staff, assured the president that Souter, Sununu’s fellow New Hampshirite, would be a reliable addition to the Court’s conservative bloc, yet, given his national obscurity, was unlikely to arouse much opposition in the confirmation process.

Souter’s nomination did indeed confound the pundits. An undergraduate and law graduate of Harvard as well as a Rhodes scholar, the fifty-year-old nominee clearly possessed superb academic credentials. His professional career to that point, however, had provided him with virtually no national exposure or the controversy that public scrutiny often generates. After two years in private practice in Concord, he had worked for a decade in the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, becoming the state’s chief legal officer for the last two years of that tenure. He had then served as a state superior court (1978–83) and supreme court (1983–90) justice. His first appointment to a federal bench, a seat on the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, had come only a few months before his nomination to the Supreme Court. Nor did he possess the paper trail of legal views that had helped to defeat Bork. Souter’s only law review article was a tribute to another jurist, and he . . .

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