Obama seeking independent-minded justice to replace Souter

Obama seeking independent-minded justice to replace Souter

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama interrupted a press briefing [text] Friday to speak about the retirement of Justice David Souter [JURIST report]. Speaking about the nearly two decades of service and dedication that Justice Souter had given to the court, Obama said that he had thanked him on behalf of the American people. Obama then spoke to the process of choosing a new candidate:

Now, the process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as President. So I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives – whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.

I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes. I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.

Speculation has centered on the diversity aspects of potential candidates, focusing on women and Hispanics, as well as those without federal appeals court experience [NYT report]. The Obama administration plans to have a new justice in place by autumn [Washington Post report].

Rumors of Souter's retirement began to circulate late Thursday, and were confirmed by the end of the day Friday. Souter has submitted a letter of resignation [text, PDF], and the Supreme Court has issued a press release [text, DOC] confirming his resignation. Souter, 69, was nominated to the Supreme Court by then-president George H.W. Bush and was seated in October 1990. He previously served on the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Souter was viewed as one of the more liberal justices, often siding with Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.