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Bar News - May 15, 2009

Quotations about and from Justice David H. Souter


US Supreme Court Associate Justice David H. Souter plans to step down from the top court at the conclusion of the 2008-2009 term and return to New Hampshire. The Bar News will write more about this major development in the NH legal community in upcoming issues. For now, enjoy this sampling of emblematic quotes about (and from) Justice Souter.


“Justice Souter weighs about 140 lbs and 120 lbs of that is brain.”

- John T. Broderick, Jr., then a Manchester attorney, in reaction to the news that Souter had been nominated to the NH Supreme Court.


“…this is a home run, and the ball is still ascending. In fact, it’s just about to leave Earth orbit.”

- Then-Governor John Sununu, reassuring a conservative activist that recent nominee Souter would be a reliable conservative vote on the High Court.


From Souter himself:


“I’d rather have a right to do something than a right to stop someone else.”

- Souter at his confirmation hearing, in response to a question regarding individual rights.


“It is much easier to modify an opinion if one has not already persuasively declared it.”


“The first lesson, simple as it is, is that whatever court we’re in, whatever we are doing, at the end of our task some human being is going to be affected. Some human life is going to be changed by what we do. And so we had better use every power of our minds and our hearts and our beings to get those rulings right.”

 - Souter at his confirmation hearing. 


“I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

- Regarding proposals to televise proceedings at the US Supreme Court.


In Casey…Souter wrote that to reverse 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.”

-  Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).


On the value of common law:

“It is here that the value of common law method becomes apparent, for the usual thinking of the common law is suspicious of the all-or-nothing analysis that tends to produce legal petrification instead of an evolving boundary between the domains of old principles. Common-law method tends to pay respect instead to detail, seeking to understand old principles afresh by new examples and new counterexamples. The ‘tradition is a living thing,’ [Poe, 367 U.S. at 542 (Harlan, J., dissenting)] albeit one that moves by moderate steps carefully taken.

 - Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), p. 770.


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