Not since Earl Warren has a Republican appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court been as disappointing to conservatives as David Souter, who announced Friday he plans to retire at the end of this court term.
Appointed by the first President Bush in 1990, Souter replaced liberal William Brennan and was expected the continue the rightward movement of the high court that began under President Ronald Reagan. Many liberals believed that, and some pro-abortion groups protested when he was nominated.
But, in his 19 years on the high court, Souter has displayed fewer conservative principles than Sen. Arlen Specter.
From abortion, to vouchers for public schools to the dispuited 2000 Florida presidential election, Souter has reliably sided with the liberal bloc on the court.
It’s not that Souter was obliged to be conservative just because he was nominated by a Republican president. It’s more the fact that he did such a good job of hiding his real views during his confirmation hearings that irks so many people.
In fact, Souter proved to be more a cipher than an ideologue during his hearings, basically offering no personal views on some of the most important issues of the day. In the wake of the highly contentious confirmation hearings for the very conservative Robert Bork a few years earlier, that may have been exactly what President Bush was seeking. But the result on the Supreme Court was not exactly what he expected.
With Souter’s announced intention to retire in June, President Barack Obama will no doubt seek to appoint a liberal to replace him, and that’s certainly the president’s preogative. It won’t change the general philosophical makeup of the court much.
But the president may want to perform a thorough examination of his nominee’s ideological views before he submits that person’s name to the U.S. Senate, lest he end up with Souter in reverse.