At 69, Souter is nowhere near the oldest member of the court. In fact, he is in the younger half of the court’s age range, with five justices older and just three younger. So far as anyone knows, he is in good health. But he has made clear to friends for some time that he wanted to leave Washington, a city he has never liked, and return to his native New Hampshire. Now, according to reliable sources, he has decided to take the plunge and has informed the White House of his decision.
Factors in his decision no doubt include the election of President Obama, who would be more likely to appoint a successor attuned to the principles Souter has followed as a moderate-to-liberal member of the court’s more liberal bloc over the past two decades.
In addition, Souter was apparently satisfied that neither the court’s oldest member, 89-year-old John Paul Stevens, nor its lone woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had cancer surgery over the winter, wanted to retire at the end of this term. Not wanting to cause a second vacancy, Souter apparently had waited to learn his colleagues’ plans before deciding his own.
Given his first appointment to the high court, most observers expect Obama will appoint a woman, since the court currently has only one female justice and Obama was elected with strong support from women. But an Obama pick would be unlikely to change the ideological makeup of the court.
Point-setters are already betting on Elana Kagan, who was the dean of Harvard Law School and was chosen by Obama to be solicitor general, to be among the front-runners. Like two current Supreme Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, and an unfathomable number of attorneys, Kagan is Jewish.