Friday, May 1, 2009


President Obama said Friday he will seek to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter with someone who goes beyond legal experience and can relate to average Americans.

Mr. Obama personally announced Justice Souter’s decision to leave the bench at the end of the current Supreme Court term, informing reporters on an unscheduled visit to the White Housepress briefing room.

Saying he had just spoken to the New Hampshire-born judge by telephone, Mr. Obama praised Justice Souter for his 19 years on the high court. Mr. Obama said he’s looking for a “quality of empathy” in his replacement.

“I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity,” the president said.

Already, groups on both sides of the abortion, civil rights and other cultural debates are gearing up for the fight, which adds another complex political battle to Mr. Obama’s already crowded desk.

Mr. Obama said he will look for someone whose experience goes beyond “some abstract legal theory or footnote” and embraces everyday experiences.

Elaborating on that, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said it means adding a different kind of diversity to the court.

“The most important thing to him is diversity of experience, somebody who has not just thought about the law but somebody who has the type of experience to understand how the decisions that he or she might make at any level of the judicial process would affect average, everyday Americans,” Mr. Gibbs said.

News of Justice Souter’s decision broke late Thursday, but Friday’s phone call was the first notice the White House was given, Mr. Gibbs said. Mr. Obama pledged to consult both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate before selecting a replacement.

Given their numbers in the Senate, Democrats are in a powerful position to push through any Obama nominee, though a lot will depend on how far the nominee Mr. Obama chooses would push the court away from the current ideological balance.

Justice Souter was nominated by President George H.W. Bush, who had expected him to be a reliable conservative vote. But Justice Souter has leaned to the left throughout his tenure on the court.

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