FOXWIRE: Supreme Court Justice David Souter formally announced his retirement Friday in a short letter to President Barack Obama, clearing the way for Obama's first selection to the nation's highest court.

"Dear Mr. President," is how Souter began his letter. "When the Supreme Court rises for the summer recess this year, I intend to retire from the regular active service as a Justice...," Souter continued.

His following closing words perhaps more so than any tribute or reflection of his career show the curious nature of the man "...under the provisions of 28 US.C. § 371(b)(1), having attained the age and met the service requirements of subsection(c) of that section. I mean to continue to render substantial judicial service as an Associate Justice."

The public release of the letter coincided with President Obama's surprise appearance in the White House Briefing Room. Obama told reporters that he had just finished talking to Souter on the phone and said he was "incredibly grateful for [Souter's] dedicated service...and I wish him safe travels on journey home to his beloved New Hampshire and on the road ahead."

Since the news first broke late Thursday night speculation of short-lists and possible replacements have been as rampant as discussion of Souter's 19 year career on the Court. To that end, Obama said the process is one the most serious responsibilities he has on his agenda right now.

Obama said he will base his selection on how that person can judge "how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives. Whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy and understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes."

Before Obama interrupted his press secretary’s daily briefing, Robert Gibbs took many questions about the selection process that lies ahead. His answers mirrored much of what the president would subsequently say but it was couched in the notion of diversity. "I've heard him talk about this during the presidential campaign and even as — even as a senator," Gibbs said. "I think the most important thing to him is diversity of experience, somebody who has not just thought about the law, but somebody who has the type of experience to understand how the decisions that he or she might make at any level of the judicial process would affect average, everyday Americans."

Conservative organizations have already started distributing background material on people often mentioned as possible Obama picks. Individuals such as Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal appellate court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) says someone "would have to be in a dream world" to think Obama will not select some who is liberal and supports abortion rights.

There is no specific timetable for when Obama has to make his selection. The Court's term doesn't end until the end of June and Souter's letter says he will stay on to complete his work until the justices have their summer break. His selection will have to be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and get a majority of votes before the full Senate.