Souter love widens

I received this gratifying letter a few days ago in my Facebook inbox. The writer, “LS,” an entertainment journalist, found me through my Facebook club, “David Souter: Resident U.S. Supreme Court Hottie,” which I formed many years ago.

Hi, Elaine. I’m just a Facebook user who happened upon your Soutie page. It was adorable. Loved what you wrote. Just wanted to tell you that.

Gosh, I wish The Man wasn’t retiring. Gonna miss him madly. Such a wonderful judge. … I’m not a lawyer or a law student (I actually work for a newspaper, in the entertainment section). I’m just a SCOTUS fan, and just totally dig Suitcase Soutie.

That warmed my heart. The club has doubled in size since Souter announced his retirement from the Supreme Court last month. It is now six members strong!

More Souter worship

Lest my readers think I’m a Souter sycophant, I want to emphasize that I did not love every decision the retiring justice penned. In particular, Kelo v. City of New London, the controversial eminent domain case, really rubbed me the wrong way. (It only looks worse since I moved to New York and started following the many projects that marry powerful government interests and private developers against less powerful residents. I am not trying to say development is unquestionably bad, but it certainly deserves to be scrutinized and kept in check when residents’ interests are at stake). In general, I have a lot more I would like to read about the court’s rulings on cases that concern corporations and business, cases that often get overshadowed by perhaps more compelling social issue matters.

Still, the 17-year-old in me is giddy to see all of the Souter tributes across the web. One of my favorites is the piece in the New York Times about his New Hampshire farmhouse and the surrounding town. I envy this guy’s bucolic existence, even though I don’t think I could hack it (for the Souter fans among you, you will recognize that pun).

My friend also cued me to this brilliant little limerick from a commenter on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, and I’ll close with it:

There once was a man from New Hampshire,
met with conservative fanfare;
after no years of imports,
except that vote to abort;
he disappeared back to his man lair.

Ode to David Souter, my Supreme Court Justice Crush

The news of Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s retirement rekindled my longstanding love for this discreet, low-key man. The love began when I became obsessed for a brief period with the U.S. Supreme Court in the aftermath of the 2000 election as it became clear that the Bush v. Gore case as would essentially decide the fate of the presidency. Knowing almost nothing about the Court, I decided to read a book by former clerk Edward Lazarus called Closed Chambers. In it, he bursts the myth of the Court as a rarefied environment of collegial relationships between justices and clerks mainly concerned with interpreting the law with integrity. According to Lazarus, who clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun, a “liberal” Nixon appointee who authored Roe v. Wade, an ideological rivalry reigned instead, and it was most pronounced between the clerks: on one side were those who worked for “liberal” justices like Blackmun, Thurgood Marshall, and William Brennan; on the other were those who worked for “conservative” justices like Antonin Scalia, Byron White, and William Rehnquist.

Souter ascended to the court in this environment, to replace the retiring William Brennan. Brennan was known as one of the greats of the Warren Court of the 1960′s, which had expanded individual rights with its broad interpretations of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. In 1990, when George H.W. Bush nominated Souter, liberals and conservatives expected he would join the group on the court that wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade, though he had made no rulings about the case as a New Hampshire Supreme Court judge. Most of what was known about the quiet judge and former Rhodes Scholar from New Hampshire was that he was a law and order type who had never been married.

And then Souter joined the court and voted with the “liberals” who upheld the fundamental holding of Roe v. Wade when it was challenged by a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. Clarence Thomas he was not.

Souter is by all accounts an individualistic fellow who is impatient with Washington culture and spends a lot of time in his native New England. According to Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine, which I plan to read this summer, Souter almost resigned from the court after Bush v. Gore, where his “conservative” colleagues abandoned their longstanding commitment to states rights and narrow interpretation of the equal protection clause. What kept Souter on the court, it seems, was the threat that Bush would appoint someone in his place. Now that Obama is president, Souter can flee.

My classmate just told me a great story about Souter that comes out of The Nine and illustrates why he seems awesome. Souter was at a gas station in New Hampshire and was spotted by a guy who recognized him as a Supreme Court Justice. “You’re Stephen Breyer, right?” the guy said. Souter responded in the affirmative, thinking, whatever. Then the guy asked Souter what his favorite part of being a Supreme Court Justice was, and Souter responded, “Working with David Souter.”

Anyway, cheers to David Souter, one of my many old man crushes. I’ll never be able to clerk for him, as was once my dream, so I hope he has many restful years at his house in New Hampshire.

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