Supreme Court Justice David Souter plans to retire, sources told NBC News Thursday night.
Speculation about Souter’s plans began to swirl as the eight other justices were known to have hired the four law clerks who will work with them in the Supreme Court term that begins in October. Souter has been the lone holdout, hiring no one.
A retirement by Souter, 69, would give President Barack Obama his first chance to nominate a justice and the next few months would bring Senate confirmation hearings.
Several government sources said that Souter had signaled his intention to retire, NBC News correspondent Pete Williams reported. It was unclear whether Souter would retire at the end of the current term or as soon as a nomination can be made. Wednesday was the last day of oral arguments in the current court term.
For the last three years, at least, the identities of Souter’s clerks for the upcoming term have been known by now. Gossipy legal blogs actively seek out the names of the clerks – recent graduates of the nation’s top law schools who go on to lucrative careers and, sometimes, the Supreme Court.
Clerkships are highly sought and applicants have been known to interview with multiple justices in the hopes of landing a job at the high court. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens were clerks when they were younger.
Clerks typically start work in July and spend the summer poring over appeals to decide which ones they think the court should hear. Justice Clarence Thomas recently said of new clerks that “the way that we work, there is no start up time. You hit the ground running and you’re ready to go.”
Other candidates for retirement
The other candidates for retirement are Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 76, and Stevens, 89, although neither has betrayed any intention of leaving. Ginsburg, who is undergoing chemotherapy following surgery for pancreatic cancer in February, said she wants to serve into her 80s.
In 1990, Republican President George Bush nominated Souter for the position of Supreme Court justice. Little was known of his positions on issues at the forefront of the news, such as abortion, and it was hoped by conservatives that his literal interpretations of the Constitution would work in their favor. However, Souter’s interpretations of the Constitution were more liberal than the Republican Party had hoped.
According to Biography Resource Center Online, during the Casey v. Planned Parenthood case, Souter voted to uphold the Roe v. Wade decision governing a woman’s right to an abortion and also voted to prohibit prayer at high school graduation ceremonies in Lee v. Weisman.
In defense of his abortion stance, Souter wrote that, as a nation, we have come to rely on the “availability of abortion” and to overturn Roe v.Wade would be “a surrender to political pressure … so to overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason to re-examine a watershed decision would subvert the Court’s legitimacy beyond any serious question.”
Since that time he consistently voted on the more liberal sides of issues.
Souter attended Harvard University, graduating Phi Betta Kappa in 1961 with a major in philosophy. Before returning to Harvard to attend law school, Souter won a Rhodes Scholarship to Magdalen College at Oxford.