Note: Judgepedia will be read-only from 9pm CST on February 25-March 2 while Judgepedia is merged into Ballotpedia.
Starting on March 2, all Judgepedia content will be contained on For status updates, visit

David Souter

From Judgepedia
Jump to: navigation, search
David Souter
Current Court Information:
Supreme Court of the United States
Title:   Former Justice
Position:   Seat #4
Appointed by:   George H.W. Bush
Approval vote:   90-9
Active:   10/3/1990-6/30/2009
Senior:   6/30/2009 - Present
Preceded by:   William Brennan
Succeeded by:   Sonia Sotomayor
Past post:   First Circuit
Past term:   1990-1990
Past position:   Seat #2
Past post 2:   Supreme Court of New Hampshire
Past term 2:   1983-1990
Personal History
Born:   September 17, 1939
Hometown:   Melrose, MA
Undergraduate:   Harvard, 1961
Magdalen College, Oxford, 1963
Law School:   Harvard Law, 1966
Grad. School:   Magdalen College, Oxford, 1963

David Hackett Souter was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1990 until 2009. He filled the seat vacated by Justice William Brennan. He was nominated to the Court by Republican President George H. W. Bush on January 24, 1990, and received his commission on October 3, 1990.[1]

Justice Souter retired from the court on June 30, 2009, at the end of the 2008-09 term. Souter's retirement created the first opening for President Obama to make an appointment to the Supreme Court.[2]

Souter was one of two justices nominated to the Supreme Court by President George H.W. Bush. Souter served on The Burger Court and The Rehnquist Court.

Early life and education

Souter was born in Melrose, Massachusetts.[3] He went on to Harvard College, from which he received his A.B., concentrating in philosophy and writing a senior thesis on the legal positivism of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. In 1961, Souter graduated from Harvard magna cum laude as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and earned an M.A. from Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1963. He then entered Harvard Law School, graduating in 1966.[1]

Professional career

Souter worked as an associate at Orr & Reno in Concord, New Hampshire from 1966 to 1968. He accepted a position as an Assistant Attorney General of New Hampshire in 1968, beginning his lifelong career in public service. As assistant attorney general he worked in the criminal division, prosecuting cases in the courts. In 1971, Warren Rudman, then the Attorney General of New Hampshire, selected him to be the Deputy Attorney General. Rudman resigned to enter private practice in 1976, and Souter succeeded him as the Attorney General of New Hampshire.[1]

State judicial career

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

Souter was appointed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court as an Associate Justice in 1983.[1]

Federal judicial career

First Circuit

Souter received a commission to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on April 30, 1990, nominated by George H. W. Bush on January 24, 1990. He was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Hugh Bownes. His vacancy was filled by Norman Stahl.[1]

Supreme Court

Warren Rudman, later elected a Senator, and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu — then chief of staff to President George H. W. Bush — were instrumental in both Souter's nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court. Prior to Sununu's recommendation, few observers outside of New Hampshire knew who Souter was, although he had been mentioned by The New York Times as one of Reagan's four top nominees for the Supreme Court slot that eventually went to Anthony Kennedy. Rudman had recommended Souter to Reagan's chief of staff Howard Baker for both a federal judgeship and the Supreme Court.[4]

Bush originally wanted to appoint Clarence Thomas to Brennan's seat, but ultimately decided that Thomas had not yet had enough experience as a federal judge and decided to recommend Souter for the post instead.[5] President Bush nominated Souter as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on July 25, 1990, and Souter took his seat on October 9, 1990, shortly after the United States Senate confirmed him by a vote of 90-9 after the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out the nomination by a vote of 14-3.[6]

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. They based their claim on the fact that Souter had friendships with many conservative politicians in New Hampshire. Their allegations failed to influence the other 90 senators due to the fact that the press called him the "stealth justice" and showed that his professional record provoked little real controversy and provided very little paper trail. Lack of a paper trail was seen by President Bush as a positive for Souter, because President Reagan's nominee, Bork, had been rejected by the Senate due to the availability of his extensive written opinions on issues.[7]

Bush claimed that he didn't know Souter's stances on abortion, affirmative action, or other issues. The National Organization for Women opposed Souter's nomination and held a rally outside the hearings to oppose his selection. The then-president of NOW, Molly Yard, testified that Souter would "end... freedom for women in this country."[8] Souter was also opposed by the NAACP, which urged its 500,000 members to write letters to their Senators asking for Souter's defeat.[9] Despite this opposition and largely due to his lack of a paper trail, Souter won an easy confirmation compared to later Republican appointees.

Souter spoke admiringly of the conservative Justice John Marshall Harlan of the Warren Court during his confirmation hearings. The Wall Street Journal described the events leading up to the appointment of the "liberal jurist" in a 2000 editorial, saying Rudman in his "Yankee Republican liberalism" took "pride in recounting how he sold Mr. Souter to gullible White House chief of staff John Sununu as a confirm-able conservative. Then they both sold the judge to President Bush, who wanted above all else to avoid a confirmation battle."[10] 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" about Souter's positions on the Court and would have preferred him to be more similar to Justice Antonin Scalia.

After Souter was sworn in, he said: "The first lesson, simple as it is, is that whatever court we're in, whatever we are doing, at the end of our task some human being is going to be affected. Some human life is going to be changed by what we do. And so we had better use every power of our minds and our hearts and our beings to get those rulings right."

He left the court on June 30, 2009 and his vacancy was filled by Sonia Sotomayor.

See also

External links


Portions of this article were taken from Wikipedia under the GNU license.

Federal judicial offices
Preceded by:
Hugh Bownes
First Circuit
Seat #2
Succeeded by:
Norman Stahl
Preceded by:
William Brennan
Supreme Court
Seat #4
Succeeded by:
Sonia Sotomayor

New HampshireNew Hampshire Supreme CourtNew Hampshire Superior CourtsNew Hampshire Circuit CourtsNew Hampshire Probate CourtsNew Hampshire District CourtNew Hampshire Family DivisionUnited States District Court for the District of New HampshireUnited States Court of Appeals for the First CircuitNew Hampshire countiesNew Hampshire judicial newsNew Hampshire judicial electionsJudicial selection in New HampshireNewHampshireTemplatewithoutBankruptcy.jpg