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Obama Announces Souter's Retirement, Calls For New Justice By October

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
David Souter today informed President Barack Obama that he intends to step down from the Supreme Court this year. The president formally announced Souter's decision during a surprise appearance at White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' regular press briefing this afternoon.

"I am incredibly grateful for [Souter's] dedicated service; I told him as much when we spoke," Mr. Obama said. "I spoke on behalf of the American people, thanking him for his service. And I wish him safe travels on his journey home to his beloved New Hampshire and on the road ahead."

Mr. Obama pledged to replace Souter with "somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity." The president has a start date in mind for that hypothetical justice: He stated that he wants Souter's replacement seated by the first Monday in October.

Mr. Obama had only kind words for Souter, praising him for having a fair-minded and independent approach to the law.

"He came to the bench with no particular ideology," Mr. Obama said. "He never sought to promote a political agenda. And he consistently defied labels and rejected absolutes, focusing instead on just one task: reaching a just result in the case that was before him."

Souter was nominated in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush to replace Justice William Brennan. His selection came to be viewed negatively by conservatives, as he has generally sided with liberal justices on issues such as the death penalty and abortion. They had hoped he would operate more as a strict constructionist in the Robert Bork mold.

Souter's resignation letter is below. It will likely not be remembered for its lyricism:

Dear Mr. President:

When the Supreme Court rises for the summer recess this year, I intend to retire from regular active service as a Justice, under the provisions of 28 USC sect 371(b)(1), having attained the age and met the service requirements of subsection(c) of that section. I mean to continue to render substantial judicial service as an Associate Justice.

Yours respectfully,

(his signature)