Souter retirement gives Obama early Supreme Court pick
But the court's balance of power may not change much, as Justice Souter, a conservative choice, consistently voted liberal.
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The moment of truth came in the 1992 abortion case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where conservatives expected a ruling striking down Roe v. Wade. Instead, Souter joined Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor to fashion a compromise decision that ultimately affirmed a constitutional right to abortion.Skip to next paragraph
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Souter's jurisprudence continued to move to the left in later years, providing a reliable vote for the court's liberal wing on issues such as affirmative action, campaign finance reform, and the death penalty.
As reports of Souter's retirement plans swept through Washington, the White House and key members of the Senate began preparations for what will become the first major political test of the Obama administration – finding and confirming a liberal replacement.
With the recent shift of Sen. Arlen Specter (D) of Pennsylvania to the Democratic Party and the anticipated seating of Minnesota's Al Franken, the White House appears to have good prospects of winning confirmation of its chosen nominee.
But as the Obama administration's transition has demonstrated, the Senate confirmation process can sometimes unearth a few surprises.
A nomination announcement could come in late June or early July. Senate hearings are likely to be held during the summer with an eye toward confirmation before the start of the Supreme Court's next term in October.
If the nomination and confirmation process extends longer, Souter could continue to serve in the next term pending confirmation of his successor.
The debate over the next nominee has already begun.
"If Obama holds to his campaign promise to appoint a justice who rules based on her own "deepest values" and what's in her own "heart" – instead of what is in the Constitution and laws – he will be the first American President who has made lawlessness an explicit standard for Supreme Court justices," she says.
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, urged Obama to avoid a "pro-abortion litmus test." "We will work to oppose any nominee for the Supreme Court who will read the Freedom of Choice Act into the Constitution in order to elevate abortion to a fundamental right on the same plane as freedom of speech," she said in a statement.
A president's high court appointments influence the law long after the appointing president has left office, said Nan Aron, president of the liberal group Alliance for Justice. "The president can look to a broad array of legal talent to select a nominee who not only has an excellent record in the law, but also a respect for core constitutional values and a commitment to equal justice for all, not just a few," she said in a statement.
Doug Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center, in a statement urged Obama to nominate a successor to Souter who "deeply respects the Constitution's text and history and will be vigilant in protecting constitutionally-secured individual rights."
Mr. Kendall added, "We can think of no better tribute to David Souter."