- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In rare public remarks, Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter offered no clues on President Obama’s choice to fill his seat on the bench when he steps down at the end of the current court term.

Justice Souter, who announced May 1 he would be retiring to return to his home state of New Hampshire, said Wednesday afternoon that the nation’s difficulties in educating citizens about the importance of democratic principles and the philosophy of divided government threaten America’s democratic core.

“It is being lost,” he said in remarks to a conference at the Georgetown University Law Center. “It is lost if it is not understood.”

Justice Souter cited an anecdote about Benjamin Franklin, in which a lady in Philadelphia asked the Founding Father at the close of the Constitutional Convention what type of government the delegates had produced — a monarchy or a republic. Mr. Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Justice Souter’s pending departure represents Mr. Obama’s first crack at naming a justice to the nation’s highest court. The vacancy has sparked much speculation and political pre-positioning around Washington over whom the president will pick.

Some legal scholars have suggested the president pick a woman to add balance to the bench, on which men hold eight of the nine seats.

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the last justice to retire from the Supreme Court, said Wednesday at the conference that the gender question reminded her of a saying she used to share with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now the high court’s sole female member.

“At the end of the day, we believe a wise old woman and a wise old man will reach the same conclusion,” Justice O’Connor said.

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