Barack Obama | David Souter | News | Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter to Retire in June

U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, appointed by the elder George Bush in 1990, will retire at the end of June, according to officials close to Souter, news outlets reported late Thursday.

Souter The NYT: "The departure will open the first seat for a Democratic president to fill in 15 years and could prove a test of Mr. Obama’s plans for reshaping the nation’s judiciary. Confirmation battles for the Supreme Court in recent years have proved to be intensely partisan and divisive moments in Washington, but Mr. Obama has more leeway than his predecessors because his party holds such a strong majority in the Senate. Replacing Justice Souter with a liberal would not change the basic makeup of the court, where he and three other justices hold down the left wing against a conservative caucus of four justices. Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate Republican appointee, often provides the swing vote that controls important decisions."

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic speculates: "Among those who might make the list of replacements: incoming solicitor general Elena Kagan, formerly the dean of the Harvard Law School, Cass Sunstein, a brilliant constitutional law prof who now works at Obama's Office of Management and Budget, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, appelate judge Diane Wood, and Leah Ward Sears, the chief justice of Georgia's Supreme Court. A dark horse might be Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York. If Obama has a short list, it is probably much longer than mine, and includes many judges I haven't considered. A side note: watch for Vice President Joe Biden, a former chair of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, to play a significant role in this process."

Speculation arose about an empty seat in February when Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced she had surgery for pancreatic cancer. Ginsburg, who is 76, has said she wants to serve into her 80's.

Watch Souter's swearing-in ceremony from 1990 and NBC's Pete Williams breaking the news last night, AFTER THE JUMP...

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  1. Ugh... why or why couldn't it have Scalia or Thomas! Well, at least Justice Souter waited until Bush left office. He was a great Justice and will be missed. Stephens and Ginsburg can't be far behind, it is inevitable. Bush made sure his appointees were young so they would be on the court for a looooooooooong time. Obama is pretty smart and savvy, so I'm sure he'll do the right thing. As much as I think Hillary would be a great choice, I don't think that would happen. She is too old. I think Obama wants to have a lasting impression on the court. I know I would!

    Posted by: Mike | May 1, 2009 7:55:13 AM

  2. Look for Obama to appoint a Hispanic, probably female to the bench.

    As much as I would have liked to have seen Hillary on the court, she will likely remain at State. She has been doing an excellent job and seems happy there.

    Souter will be missed. He was a surprise moderate which threw Bush Senior and his cronies for a loop.

    Too bad its not Scalia or Thomas stepping down.

    Posted by: Hank | May 1, 2009 8:19:00 AM

  3. It is an open secret that Souter has always hated Washington DC with a passion. Thankfully he waited till shrub was gone and a dem was in office so he could ditch the town.

    But DAMN why couldn't scalia have had that heart attack that his lard clogged arteries are racing towards.

    A woman = cool, but not Hillary. I liked the idea of Hillary for the supremes before she got State. She is exceptional as sec of state and we need her right where she is.

    Posted by: jimmyboyo | May 1, 2009 9:23:57 AM

  4. Appointing Souter was the only thin Papa Bush did that was a reminder of what the Republican Party used to, that there used to progressive folks in the GOP. Yes, I believe the President will look for an Hispanic woman, and that's good.

    But remember you do not have to be a sitting judge or judicial scholar to be appointed to the court. You could just be a handsome governor of Massachussettes or New York.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | May 1, 2009 9:58:48 AM

  5. Is that Rick Warren's phone ringing?

    Posted by: Jesus Holds His Hand | May 1, 2009 10:10:09 AM

  6. Republicans are already playing identity politics with this one. So far from what I have seen, they want to make this nomination about race and gender in an effort to hinder the nomination. I don't care President Obama postulates a woman, an African American, a Hispanic or another White man. I just want the prospect justice to be in touch with the American people and the issues we face. I went him/her to be an effective, persuasive Justice who could finally dethrone Scalia from his influence on the rest of the Justices.

    Posted by: Rafael | May 1, 2009 10:40:06 AM

  7. I nominate Miss Debbie Reynolds for the seat. She's older than Obama would prefer, but she looks far younger than her chronological age.

    Posted by: The Milkman | May 1, 2009 11:00:34 AM

  8. My money's on Diane Wood. I am 99 percent sure he will nominate a woman, and of those being mentioned she is the safest choice -- she's already a federal judge and has been through the confirmation process before. Plus she's from Chicago, so I'll bet Obama knows her personally.

    Posted by: Chris | May 1, 2009 11:02:54 AM

  9. Milkman, that's an intriguing proposition, but don't think for a second that Joan Rivers won't be a top name in this game. She could hire Melissa as an aide, and they'd be unstoppable!

    Posted by: Paul R | May 1, 2009 2:12:42 PM

  10. This being Towleroad, I thought the posting would at least MENTION Souter's perpetual bachelorhood. Hmm....

    Posted by: Matt Sigl | May 1, 2009 2:33:11 PM

  11. MILKMAN,

    don't you work my nerves. I figured there was some prominent judge somewhere in...I dunno' Arizona by the name of Debbie Reynolds. I don't know about Debbie but her daughter seems to know a lot and think a lot.

    I'd like to see Harry Belafonte on the court, but we want somebody who's going to be there for a few decades. Hell, Harry may live to be over a hundred--he's still handsome.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | May 1, 2009 2:33:53 PM

  12. The mandatory retirement age should be about 70. After that the clerks take over.

    Posted by: anon | May 1, 2009 8:36:08 PM

  13. Given the comments on the Sunday a.m. yak-fest, sounds like it may not be a sitting judge, or even an attorney. Female, likely, but someone with real-world experience.
    How about Ann Coulter?
    Seriously, though, I suspect it will be someone with legal experience, yet knows how the law affects citizens: my bet is on Jennifer Granholm, Gov. of Michigan, former Asst US attorney, and YES, a former beauty queen.

    Posted by: TBone | May 3, 2009 11:27:30 PM

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