WASHINGTON – FOXWIRE: Supreme Court Justice David Souter has decided to retire from the Supreme Court, a move that will provide President Barack Obama his first opportunity to nominate someone to the nation's highest court.
Souter, 69, is widely regarded as one of the most liberal members of the bench. As such, his departure would not likely lead to a significant change in the close idealogical split that currently defines the Court.
Souter's decision was first reported Thursday night by National Public Radio. Congressional sources tell Fox's Senior Capitol Hill Producer Trish Turner that Souter intends to retire--most likely at the end of the current term in late June. A court spokesman had no comment about the report.
A number of Souter's former law clerks reached late Thursday night were unaware of the news and said they had no advance knowledge of Souter's departure. "A tremendous loss," says Georgetown University law professor Rebecca Tushnet who clerked for Souter a decade ago.
Another former clerk said that she isn't surprised by Souter's decision but "had hoped against hope that he might stay on the bench for another few years," said Mary-Rose Papandrea via email.
Just a few weeks ago at a speech in Washington , Souter described his annual ritual of preparing for the upcoming Supreme Court term as "a lobotomy of the mind." That comment suggesting the Court's business was intellectually listless combined with the fact that he had yet to hire clerks for the upcoming fall term prompted much speculation that he would step down.
Souter's presence in the current liberal block of the Court is a long-standing matter of frustration for conservatives who feel his appointment in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush--a Republican--was a missed opportunity.
Two years later, Souter joined Justice Anthony Kennedy and now retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (who were appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan) in crafting an opinion that affirmed the right to an abortion. The opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey still stands as the most significant abortion related case since Roe v. Wade.
Souter was also part of majority in Kelo v. New London . The 2005 case that gave local governments the right to take private property by eminent domain and give it to other private interests. The decision led to protests outside Souter's beloved New Hampshire home.
That home may very well be part of the reason he's leaving the bench. Souter is rarely seen in Washington outside the courtroom. "We know that he is attached to his hometown," Tushnet said. "But he always took his duties at the Court very seriously."
"One of the leaders of the dissents," is how University of Kentucky law professor and former Souter clerk Paul Salamanca described Souter's legacy because of the frequency with which he found himself at odds with the numerically superior conservative justices. Salamanca said in teaching his students about legal writing, he utilizes a little-known dissent from 1996 in a case involving the Seminole Tribe.
Souter also was in the minority in Bush v. Gore where he thought Florida should have been given more time to count ballots. Instead, the 5-4 ruling halted the vote-counting and led to George W. Bush's presidential victory.