Source says Justice Souter retiring from top court

Friday, May 1, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Justice David Souter has told the White House that he will retire from the Supreme Court at the end of the court's term in June, a source said Thursday night.

The source spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for Souter.

Speculation that the 69-year-old justice will be stepping down has been fueled by his failure to appoint law clerks from the fall term.

National Public Radio reported that Souter will remain on the bench until a successor is confirmed.

The Supreme Court declined to comment on the report.

Souter's retirement would give President Obama his first pick for the high court. Court watchers expect him to choose a woman to join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, currently the only woman on the Supreme Court.

Souter has never made any secret of his dislike for Washington, once telling acquaintances he had "the world's best job in the world's worst city." When the court finishes its work for the summer, he quickly departs for New Hampshire.

He has been on the court since 1990, when he was an obscure federal appeals court judge until President George H.W.. Bush tapped him for the Supreme Court.

Bush White House aide John Sununu, the former conservative governor of New Hampshire, hailed his choice as a "home run." And early in his time in Washington, Souter was called a moderate conservative.

But he soon joined in a ruling reaffirming woman's right to an abortion, a decision from 1992 that remains still perhaps his most noted work on the court.

Souter became a reliable liberal vote on the court, and was one of the four dissenters in the 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore that sealed the presidential election for George W. Bush.

Yet as Souter biographer Tinsley Yarbrough noted, "he doesn't take extreme positions." Indeed, in June, Souter sided with Exxon Mobil Corp. and broke with his liberal colleagues in slashing the punitive damages the company owed Alaskan victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

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