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Portrait of David Hackett Souter
Portrait of David Hackett Souter.
Reproduction courtesy of the Supreme Court Historical Society.
David Hackett Souter

b. September 17, 1939, Melrose, MA

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Raised in a Boston suburb, David Hackett Souter moved with his family to a farm in rural New Hampshire when he was 11 years old. Much like his judicial idol John Marshall Harlan II, he attended local high school and went to Harvard College, graduating magna cum laude in 1961. He received a Rhodes scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he received a bachelor's degree in jurisprudence in 1963. He returned to attend Harvard Law School, where he received his law degree in 1966. After two years in private practice in Concord, New Hampshire, he became an assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the state attorney general's office. New Hampshire's Attorney General Warren Rudman appointed Souter his deputy attorney general in 1971, and, on Rudman's resignation in 1976, the governor appointed Souter Attorney General of New Hampshire. Two years later he was named to the Superior Court of New Hampshire, where he served for five years. He became a member of the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 1983, and in May 1990, he joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. In July of that year he was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President George H. W. Bush. Souter was confirmed in the Senate by an overwhelming 90-9 vote.

Although his appointment was intended to increase the number of conservative members of the Court, Souter had issued very few opinions in federal cases and his record provided little indication of how he would vote. The press termed him a "stealth" candidate, and liberals hoped he would prove to be moderate, at least. In his first year, while he wrote few opinions, his votes helped to create a new conservative majority on the Court. However, over time Souter moderated his approach, and he issued opinions supporting a constitutional right to privacy, strict separation between church and state, and defending federal interstate commerce powers. He became aligned with the Court moderates, O'Connor and Kennedy, and, to the dismay of those who had supported his appointment, he helped keep conservatives from dominating the Court. In 1992, He co-authored with Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy the opinion in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which reaffirmed a woman's right to an abortion as set forth in Roe v. Wade (1973). Souter has increasingly assumed the role of intellectual leader among the moderates and has helped build a Court consensus on a number of issues.

Personally engaging, Souter has befriended the other justices on the Court, even becoming close with Antonin Scalia, whose argumentative style has alienated many. Courteous and patient, sympathetic and moderate, and supportive of civil rights, he has played a pivotal role on the Court.

Souter has remained a bachelor, lives in an undecorated apartment, and brings his own vegetarian lunch to work every day. During the summer break, he hikes in the New Hampshire mountains.

John Fox, a writer and documentary film producer, was series producer of the Emmy-winning PBS series HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS. Editor-in-chief of the award-winning HERITAGE DVD-ROM, he supervised the creation of its 540-map interactive atlas of world history. He is currently writing a book about the growth of communal intelligence over the centuries.

Anthony Kennedy David Souter Clarence Thomas Ruth Bader Ginsburg view all biographies Antonin Scalia John Paul Stevens Stephen Breyer John Roberts Samuel Alito