Friday, May 1, 2009

Granite justice leaves the Court

by Laura Smith-Gary

Justice David H. Souter is retiring from the Supreme Court. He's one of my favorites, and I'm honestly getting a little teary. (Yes. I am a geek.) He's flinty, funny, independent, intelligent, valiant in his dissent, and willing to think and change his mind. (wikipedia bio here.) He came in under George H. Bush as a little-known Republican, a choice made because Bork was rejected and Clarence Thomas was considered too inexperienced. His appointment was protested by women's rights groups and the NAACP for his unclear stances on abortion, affirmative action, and pretty much everything else. Believed by conservatives and liberals alike to belong to the Scalia school of constitutional thought, Souter was feared (and celebrated) as a potential dire threat to reproductive rights in America. Quickly becoming a deep disappointment to conservatives, he considered cases -- including abortion -- seemingly without a predetermined position, and in 1992 became a crucial vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which affirmed a woman's right to an abortion with "no undue burden." Throughout his career, he supported the rights of individuals, including women's rights, fought for the separation of church and state, and strove to interpret the Constitution based on the words and intent of the United States' founders.

Souter dissented in Bush v. Gore, asserting that the court was inappropriately inserting itself into politics. Now, he is stepping down at a time when he will be replaced by President Obama instead of the man who gave us Justice Samuel Alito in place of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. This appointment is important.

The Boston Globe mentions a few possible replacements. I wouldn't be surprised if President Obama makes an effort not to appoint a blatantly progressive judge, but instead chooses someone moderately liberal who can stand up to Scalia et. al. but who won't be easily labeled (gasp) an activist. While the nominee's Constitutional expertise, positions on the issues and on the role of the Court, and integrity -- their basic qualifications -- are most important to me, wouldn't it be nice to see someone appointed who wasn't a white man? A few years ago Justice Ginsburg heart-rendingly told Ohio State students that being the court's only woman was "lonely" and that she missed O'Connor. There are a few women on various lists of possible nominees (and a few other people who are not white men, like Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick) -- I would be happy to see another female Justice.

Thank you, Justice Souter, for your steadfast service. I hope you enjoy your retirement in New Hampshire, and I hope your replacement will be as strong a voice for women, for individual rights, and for an apolitical court as you are.


At May 1, 2009 at 11:56 AM , Blogger TommyD said...

Souter's retirement could be an opportunity for a Princeton alumna, with Elena Kagan '81 and Sonia Sotomayor '76 on the short list. It would be nice to have a Princetonian other than Sam Alito on the Court.

At May 1, 2009 at 6:12 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

Cheers to a great friend of our side. Let's hope Obama puts ideology first and appoints someone as staunchly liberal as Souter.

At May 5, 2009 at 4:21 PM , Blogger LSG said...

Gross. Guess what people are making a reeeeally big deal of when Kagan or Sotomayor are brought up as possible nominees? "They're too fat and will probably die! If we have to get a lady judge, can't we get a hot blond who loves working out?" Paul Campos on The Daily Beast dissects:

The fat-hating sexism, it is strong.


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