Supreme Court Justice David Souter, known as the “135-pound man with about 125 pounds of brain,” announced his retirement Friday, giving US President Barack Obama an early opportunity to name a replacement for the critical post.
AFP - US Supreme Court Justice David Souter on Friday announced plans to retire from a prestigious post he once described as "the world's best job in the world's worst city."
Appointed to the bench by Republican president George H.W. Bush in 1990, Souter has been a moderate voice on the court, often siding with his liberal colleagues on key issues.
However the cerebral Souter, 69, struggled for years to build the same fondness for the US capital that he holds for his native New England, in the northeastern United States. He never succeeded.
In a rare public event in March Souter described the period the Supreme Court is in session as an "annual intellectual lobotomy," depriving him of time to read. His remark on having the best job in the worst city was made privately to acquaintances, according to US media.
Yet despite his apparent mixed feelings, legal scholars frequently praise Souter for the high standards he brought to the job.
"David Souter is a remarkable man and almost a perfect judge," said Martin Redish, Professor of Law and Public Policy, Northwestern University School of Law.
Souter "has shown a deep understanding not only of the law but of the implications the Court's decisions have in the real world."
Redish believes that Souter should be remembered as a pragmatic but vigorous defender of constitutional rights and the integrity of our constitutional system."
John Broderick, head of the New Hampshire Bar Association, described Souter at the time of his nomination as "about 135 pounds -- and about 120 pounds of brain."
Born in September 1939 in the town of Melrose, Massachusetts, Souter studied at the prestigious Harvard Law School and later worked as a lawyer and became a judge in New Hampshire, where his family has owned a farm for two centuries.
Single and childless, Souter was little-known outside of his region when he was nominated in 1990.
Seen as a fierce defender of individual rights, Republicans at the time considered his appointment a "home run." Yet over the years Souter often sided with his liberal colleagues, voting with them in death penalty and worker's rights cases.
In a key 1992 case he voted in favor of a women's right to choose to have an abortion, angering conservative anti-abortion activists, a key Republican Party constituency.
In 2000 Souter was one of just three Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of allowing a presidential vote recount to continue in Florida in the race between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush.
The majority disagreed, thus handing the election to Bush in what remains a controversial decision.
Described by fellow Harvard graduate President Barack Obama as "fair-minded" and "independent," Souter is expected to be replaced by October.
Obama was effusive in his praise of the outgoing justice: Souter "approached judging as he approaches life, with a feverish work ethic and a good sense of humor, with integrity, equanimity and compassion -- the hallmark of not just being a good judge, but of being a good person."
Date created : 2009-05-02