Justice David Souter announced his retirement this week, and the entirety of the media coverage focused on Barack Obama and the pressure of his selection, the Republicans for their potential for forcing Obama to moderate his selection, and the various pressure groups that want their say on who gets the Supreme Court seat. The media paid very little attention to Souter himself. When Sandra Day O’Connor retired and when William Rehnquist died, their big cases and opinions got renewed attention and the media spoke about their legacies on the American system of law and justice.
Not with Souter, and perhaps for good reason. USA Today attempted to cover Souter’s career, but could only manage a Flash-based timeline with an embarrassing four cases, comprising none in which Souter authored a memorable opinion. In fact, all four entries start off, “Souter joined …” In the USA Today follow-up, the best they can add is that Souter seemed to ask a lot of questions lately:
In recent terms, the usually reserved Souter has been especially active on the bench. This week he was among the most aggressive questioners of a lawyer challenging the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Conservatives love to aim ire at Souter for being a liberal after George H. W. Bush’s appointment, but that’s much less Souter’s issue than Poppy’s, and John Sununu’s. Liberals love his reliable vote. Other than that, what has Souter added to the court? The rest of his colleagues have written memorable, quotable opinions, in the majority and the minority. Even John Roberts, who just joined the court, has established a track record of intellectual heft, and Alito has begun to do so.
In reviewing almost two decades on the Supreme Court, David Souter appears to have carved out a career as a Supreme non-entity. Even in the decision that created the most personal attention for him, the Kelo eminent-domain decision, the attention didn’t come from any brilliant Souter erudition on the topic but from an effort to have his home confiscated under Kelo by people in New Hampshire in order to make a point.
Can anyone point to anything significant done by David Souter over the last 19 years, other than show up?
Update: Gabriel Malor at AOS e-mails the only significant case he recalls in Souter’s SCOTUS career, McCreary County v ACLU, in which Souter wrote the opinion that ruled a display of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse unconstitutional.