With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

NYT Profiles David H. Souter

David H. Souter had no agenda 19 years ago when he took his seat on the Supreme Court, but he did have a goal: not to become a creature of Washington, a captive of the privileges and power that came with a job he was entitled to hold for the rest of his life. In this, no matter what else can be said about his tenure on the court, he succeeded brilliantly.

Just a few decades ago, this would hardly have been a singular accomplishment. Even the most distinguished Supreme Court justices often disappeared from public view, speaking only through their opinions — the full texts of which were all but inaccessible to ordinary citizens without access to a law library. But in this media-saturated age, the justices are everywhere. If they are not on book tours, they are opining on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, or mingling with their peers in Europe, or on C-Span addressing high school students, or at least delivering named lectures at law schools.

None of this held any appeal for David Souter, who after returning home from his Rhodes scholarship at Magdalen College, Oxford, crossed the Atlantic only once again, for a reunion there. Who needed Paris if you had Boston, he would remark to friends. When the court is in recess, he gets in his Volkswagen and heads to Weare, N.H., to the small farmhouse that was home to his parents and grandparents.

This pattern gave rise to a widespread view of Justice Souter as a misfit or a loner, not quite in touch with modern life. But to focus on his eccentricities — his daily lunch of yogurt and an apple, core and all; the absence of a computer in his personal office — is to miss the essence of a man who in fact is perfectly suited to his job, just not to its trappings.
Read entire article at Linda Greenhouse in the NYT