Justice David Souter has told the White House that he will retire from the Supreme Court at the end of the court’s term in June, a source familiar with his plans told the Associated Press on Thursday night.
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Souter was nominated for the Supreme Court in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush to succeed retiring Associate Justice William J. Brennan, often known as one of the Court’s two most liberal members (the other being Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, who would retire the following year). Thus, this vacancy represented a chance for the President Bush to shift the Court to the right, as his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, had tried to do. In nominating Souter, Bush had adopted what has come to be known as the “stealth strategy.” Souter had a very small “paper trail,” thus making him difficult to label as a conservative or a liberal. Some conservatives advising President Bush failed to realize that a stealth candidate may not withstand the intense pressure of the liberal media after confirmation, a mistake that may have been repeated in the ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers about 15 years later.
Bush had received assurances that Souter would be a conservative from his Chief of Staff, John Sununu, who had appointed Souter to the New Hampshire Supreme Court years earlier. Thus, Bush hoped to disarm liberal Senators who might oppose an obviously conservative nominee, as they had done just three years earlier with Robert Bork. But almost immediately it was apparent to some conservatives that Souter was not pro-life, as he had served as a director on a hospital that performed abortions. Liberals seemed to know that they had won. Even though he was grilled to define his view on abortion, Souter didn’t take the bait and he was confirmed by a vote of 90-9 by the U.S. Senate, with several conservatives voting against him.
Souter went on to align himself firmly with the more liberal bloc on the Court, leading to conservative anger at President Bush for this calculated blunder.
More… Legal Insurrection explains how Specter’s defection will hauht dems on Souter’s replacement.