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Opinion: David Souter retires; Barack Obama gets early Supreme Court pick

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What a coincidence.

News out on the 101st night of Barack Obama’s presidency that Supreme Court Justice David Hackett Souter has informed the White House that he will retire soon.

The 69-year-old jurist from New Hampshire was named to the court in 1990 by Bush I, who hoped his nominee would be a conservative. The president was sadly disappointed. Instead, Souter proved to be a centrist, leaning more liberal recently.

Souter will finish out the court’s current term, which will be issuing major decisions come summer. And he reportedly has agreed to stay on until a successor is confirmed by the Senate.

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Born in Massachusetts the son of a banker, Souter lived much of his childhood on a family farm in New Hampshire.

After a Harvard education and Rhodes scholarship, he spent a career in private practice, the state attorney general’s office, state courts and, briefly, as a federal appeals court judge,

Souter filled the Supreme Court seat held by Justice William Brennan.

Souter was confirmed by the Senate 90-9, but his opponents included both of neighboring Massachusetts’ Democratic senators, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.

Obama’s choice will be closely watched. Will he name another centrist? If so, that would be unlikely to produce change to believe in and would simply continue the current court status quo.

A woman, because the court’s only current female is the aging Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’s been treated for pancreatic cancer? A liberal to satisfy the party’s left impatient after eight years of not controlling such White House appointments?

Obama shouldn’t have much trouble getting his nominee through a Senate now likely to contain 60 Democrats.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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