David Hackett Souter

David Hackett Souter : Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court

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When the first President Bush chose David Hackett Souter for the Supreme Court in 1990, the slender New Englander with the shy demeanor and ambiguous past was quickly dubbed a "stealth candidate". Determined to avoid a repeat of the firestorm surrounding President Reagan's nomination of the controversial Robert Bork, Bush opted for Souter, who had, remarkably, produced only one law review article in his legal career. Souter, an obscure but well-respected New Hampshire conservative, seemed unlikely to arouse the kind of passionate opposition that defined the Bork confirmation process. And, indeed, Souter was accepted onto the Court with little fuss. Today, fifteen years into his tenure, Souter remains as enigmatic and unpredictable as ever, a mystery even to avid Court watchers. Who is David Hackett Souter and what will be his legacy on the Supreme Court? Sifting through Souter's opinions, papers of the Justice's contemporaries and other relevant records and interviews, esteemed Supreme Court biographer Tinsley Yarbrough here gives us the real David Souter, crafting a fascinating account of one of the heretofore most elusive Justices in the history of the Court. Though Souter's record on legal issues was generally conservative before his arrival on the Court, his mixed views caused some concern among both the left and the right during the appointment process. His reclusive lifestyle and frugality added to his mystique, making him even more difficult to peg. His penchant for solitude and his seemingly narrow circle of close friends convinced some that the middle-aged bachelor was out of touch with the sort of "real world" problems the nation's highest court regularly confronts. Court watchers soon realized-to their delight or dismay-that President Bush's "stealth" justice was a traditional New England Republican deeply tied to the party's historic roots in the union and civil rights-in stark contrast to most Reagan-Bush I appointees. On the bench, Souter has embraced a flexible, evolving, and highly pragmatic judicial style that embraces a high regard for precedent-even liberal decisions of the Warren and Burger Courts with which he may have personally disagreed. Even more significantly, Souter has become a regular and very effective critic of the set of rulings via which his ostensible political brethren-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas-have abandoned precedent to assert their conservative vision. Ultimately, Yarbrough contends, Souter has become the principal Rehnquist Court opponent of the originalist, text-bound jurisprudence that many of the more conservative Justices profess to champion.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 336 pages
  • 149.9 x 233.7 x 33mm | 589.68g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Cloth
  • numerous halftones
  • 0195159330
  • 9780195159332

About Tinsley E. Yarbrough

Tinsley E. Yarbrough is Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor, Department of Political Science, East Carolina University. His books include The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution, Judicial Enigma: The First Justice Harlan, John Marshall Harlan: Great Dissenter of the Warren Court, and Judge Frank Johnson and Human Rights in Alabama, for which he won an ABA Silver Gavel Award. He lives in Greenville, North Carolina.show more

Review quote

"Conservatives view the first President Bush's appointment of David H. Souter as a huge miscalculation, and the results seem to bear them out. Souter has voted with the liberals on abortion, separation of church and state, federal legislative power, and Bush v. Gore. In this penetrating analysis, Tinsley E. Yarbrough attributes Justice Souter's decisions to an unwilligness to uproot precedent and a respect for "our settled law." Yarbrough persuasively depicts Souter as an exemplar of the common-law tradition and places him squarely in the mold of Yarbrough's previous subject, the second Justice Harlan."-John Jeffries, Dean, University of Virginia School of Law "Tinsley Yarbrough, the most prolific living biographer of Supreme Court justices, has done it again. This time he has given us a readable, carefully researched, and persuasively argued book about David H. Souter, a traditional Republican who has forthrightly supported liberal positions on civil liberties and abortion. Today, Yarbrough cogently explains, Souter would never be appointed by George W. Bush, the son of the president that did appoint him. Yarbrough mixes personal history with a careful understanding of the case law, the other justices, and the larger political climate to produce a compelling study in both judicial style and courage."-Kermit L. Hall, President and Professor of History, State University of New York at Albany "Yarbrough has written a masterful, very human, portrait of America's 105th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, David Hackett Souter. As with Yarbrough's other biographies of American jurists, he, seemingly effortlessly, captures the essential qualities of Souter's personality, jurisprudence, and his work on the Court and presents these insights in beautifully written yet thoroughly scholarly prose. After reading this book, one "knows" Justice Souter,"Hackett," the way one "knows" a very close friend."-Howard Ball, author of Murder in Mississippi "Tinsley Yarbrough provides a marvelous portrait of David Souter both as a jurist and as a man, and explains why his traditional New England conservatism has made him a key member of the centrist coalition that has dominated the Supreme Court for over a decade. And, sadly, he also makes clear why the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party will never, if it can help it, allow another such open-minded person on the nation's highest court."-Melvin I. Urofsky, Professor of History and Public Policy, Virginia Commonwealth Universityshow more

Table of contents

Preface ; Acknowledgments ; 1. New England Yankee ; 2. New Hampshire Judge ; 3. "Stealth Candidate" ; 4. Common Law Justice ; 5. Constitutional Nationalist ; 6. Traditional Republican ; Epilogue ; Bibliographical Note ; Notes ; Indexshow more

Rating details

27 ratings
3.37 out of 5 stars
5 7% (2)
4 41% (11)
3 37% (10)
2 11% (3)
1 4% (1)
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