David H. Souter

Media Items
Personal Information
Born 
Sunday, September 17, 1939
Childhood Location 
Massachusetts
Childhood Surroundings 
Massachusetts
Religion 
Episcopalian
Ethnicity 
English
Father 
Joseph A. Souter
Father's Occupation 
Banker
Mother 
Helen A. Hackett
Family Status 
Middle
Position 
Associate Justice
Seat 
5
Nominated By 
Bush (41)
Commissioned on 
Tuesday, October 2, 1990
Sworn In 
Monday, October 8, 1990
Left Office 
Monday, June 29, 2009
Reason For Leaving 
retired
Length of Service 
18 years, 8 months, 21 days
Home 
New Hampshire
David H. Souter
Pete Souza/Chicago Tribune/MCT
Biography 

A man of unusual and peculiar sensibilities, David H. Souter came to the Supreme Court as a complete enigma. Souter, who received his nomination to the Court from President George Bush only months after his promotion to a federal appeals court, lacked a public reputation. As a result, the press labeled him the "stealth justice," an unknown judge with uncertain values. Conservatives praised Souter as a restrained jurist and predicted that he would bolster the right-wing bloc of Antonin Scalia and William H. Rehnquist. The Bush White House assured the Republican far right that Souter would be a "home run." Liberals, on the other hand, hoped secretly that the Bush nominee would fail in expectations and emerge as a surprise to his sponsors. To this day, Souter has avoided validating either camp. The Free Congress Foundation, an organization dedicated to coordinating support for conservative nominees, has called their optimistic predictions "miserably inaccurate." The Women's Legal Defense Fund, a liberal group for the advancement of women's rights, staged protests at various times against Souter and has expressed dismay at his votes. The unhappiness of both political extremes speaks volumes of the quirky justice. To this day, Souter has demonstrated a moderate jurisprudence though he has not appeared afraid to wander deep into either camp along the political spectrum. Court watchers continue to be amused by Souter's eccentric habits and behaviors.

David Hackett Souter was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, on September 17, 1939. Although Souter grew up with his parents, Joseph and Helen, in Massachusetts, he spent many of his summers at his maternal grandparent's farm in Weare, New Hampshire. Souter's grandparents passed away when he was eleven and his family decided to move to the farm. Since then, Souter has claimed Weare as his home. Souter's father worked as a banker in the nearby state capital of Concord. He passed away in 1976, survived by Souter and his mother who still resides in a retirement community close to the Souter farm.

Souter attended a local public school where his teachers immediately recognized the great intelligence of their young student. His parents sent Souter to Concord High School where he excelled. His classmates voted him, upon graduation, the "most sophisticated" and "most likely to succeed." After high school, Souter attended Harvard University where he continued to enjoy academic success. He graduated magna cum laude in 1961 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. The recipient of a Rhodes scholarship to attend Oxford, Souter spent the next two years earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in jurisprudence from Magdalen College. Souter returned to the United States in 1963 to study law at Harvard.

After law school, Souter went back to his home and accepted a position with the Concord law firm of Orr & Reno. Souter based his decision on his previous experience there as a summer clerk and his desire to remain close to home. At Orr & Reno, Souter practiced a wide variety of law ranging from corporate law to general litigation. He also began participation in various civic activities that would eventually lead to trusteeships in both the Concord Hospital and the New Hampshire Historical Society. Souter's activism in civic activities encouraged him to seek a wider role in public service. His colleagues at his firm observed that he seemed discontent with private practice. Thus, Souter eagerly accepted a position offered by the attorney general of New Hampshire in 1968.

Souter began as an assistant attorney general in the criminal division, but his talents quickly propelled him to higher office. When Warren Rudman became attorney general of New Hampshire, in 1971, he picked Souter as his assistant. Souter earned Rudman's admiration and respect. When Rudman resigned from office a few years later, New Hampshire's Governor Meldrin Thompson appointed Souter to the top job. As attorney general for New Hampshire, Souter fought a gambling legalization movement in the state as well as protests against a nuclear power plant.

Souter became a judge after two years of service as the attorney general. Since New Hampshire's trial court did not reside in any permanent seat, Souter and his fellow judges traveled the state's ten counties. This experience exposed Souter to a wide variety of cases and situations. Most of the cases that came before him dealt with criminal matters and he soon gained a tough- on-crime reputation. Still, his fairness and intelligence won him praise even from defense attorneys.

Governor John Sununu promoted Souter to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 1983. Souter quickly established himself as a knowledgeable jurist and an independent thinker. President Bush appointed Souter to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1990. Justice William J. Brennan retired five months later, however, and Bush decided to move Souter up again. Although Sununu and Rudman denied involvement in Souter's nomination, Souter's friendship with both no doubt helped his cause. The ever-unassuming Souter had to be reassured by Rudman that, in light of all the qualified candidates available, an interview with Bush was really necessary. Souter's nomination passed nearly unopposed through the Senate.

Souter's first year on the Court was undistinguished. He wrote few opinions and did not display many hints of his judicial predisposition. Since then, he has appeared more comfortable on the Court. He has settled into the moderate camp of the Court as evidenced by his unprecedented 24 similar votes with the centrist Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Together with O'Connor and Kennedy, Souter has formed a moderate bloc in the Court that prevents domination from the conservative wing.

Souter's engaging personality explains his quick friendship with fellow justices. As one of the few people unoffended by Scalia's verbal argumentation style, Souter has become a good friend with the conservative justice despite the fact that they often clash on controversial issues. Souter has maintained his simple, bachelor lifestyle. He brings his own lunch, consisting of apples and yogurt, to work everyday and lives in an undecorated apartment. He still returns home to Weare during the summer breaks where he climbs the local mountains and visits his mother.

Souter retired from the bench on June 29, 2009. He had no regrets upon leaving Washington DC to return to the land that he loved.

Clerkships 
Clerksort icon Law School Terms Clerked
Peter J. Spiro Virginia (1987) 1990
Rebecca L. Tushnet Yale (1998) 1999
Riyaz A. Kanji Yale (1991) 1994
Robert Brauneis Harvard (1989) 1992
Samuel J. Rascoff Yale (2001) 2003
Sarah L. Levine Yale (2000) 2002
Steven G. Krone Chicago (1992) 1993
Steven M. Dunne Stanford (1990) 1992
Stuart M. Benjamin Yale (1991) 1995
Thomas B. Colby Harvard (1996) 1997
Thomas G. Pulham Yale (2004) 2009
Thomas H. Lee Harvard (2000) 2001
Timothy J. Simeone Chicago (1994) 1996
Warren D. Postman Harvard (2007) 2008
William D. Araiza Yale (1990) 1991

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David H. Souter. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 20 December 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/justices/david_h_souter?page=4&order=title&sort=asc>.
David H. Souter, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/justices/david_h_souter?page=4&order=title&sort=asc (last visited December 20, 2014).
"David H. Souter," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed December 20, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/justices/david_h_souter?page=4&order=title&sort=asc.