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University of Iowa News Release

 

May 1, 2009

Law professor comments on workmanlike legacy of Justice Souter

David Souter was a workmanlike justice who quietly went about his work on the United States Supreme Court, said University of Iowa law professor and Supreme Court scholar Todd Pettys.

"He has not stood out among his colleagues on the Court and was never the public face of any movement on the Court or the leader of an ideological coalition," said Pettys, a constitutional law expert. "He was very understated publicly and his edges are not apparent."

Souter has announced he will retire as an associate justice on the court at the end of the current term in June. He has served since 1990, following his appointment by President George H.W. Bush, who thought he would be the center-right justice he had been on the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

"It's well known that he was not the kind of justice that many of President Bush's conservative supporters thought he would be," Pettys said, adding, however, that Souter does not deserve the liberal label that many have pinned to him.

"He tended to the left, but it was not inevitable," Pettys said. "It was not his style to declare ideological commitments that would help people pin down how he'd rule in future cases."

Pettys pointed to the decision Souter co-authored in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 case that upheld a woman's right to an abortion, but changed the legal framework that had been put in place by Roe v. Wade 20 years earlier. The new language made it easier for lawmakers to challenge the right.

"The left didn't like it because it eroded the Roe framework, and the right didn't like it because it left the right to an abortion in place," he said, adding it will likely be the case for which Souter is most remembered.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell), tom-snee@uiowa.edu