Justice Souter Describes Judges' Impact on History as 'Slight'

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In his first public speech since announcing his retirement from the Supreme Court, Justice David Souter argued Tuesday that while most justices and cases are quickly forgotten, they play an “imperative” role in maintaining a safe, stable democracy.

“For most of us, the very best work that we do sinks into the stream pretty quickly," Souter told more than 300 judges at the annual Third Circuit Judicial Conference in Philadelphia....

Quoting a legal scholar who once questioned his place in history, Souter’s answer was that judges must look at the big picture when considering their impact.

“Our value does not come from the moment we all aspire to have---the moment of the error-free trial, of the perfect decision and opinion…(we) thought should get into the case books by next year,” Souter said, noting that there are only a handful of famous decisions remembered beyond 20 years like Marbury v. Madison (1803).

“If we are a lucky we all have a few of those (decisions) in our careers. But if we are honest we have to realize our significance, even if we are lucky, is very slight,” he said.

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Stephen J Cipolla - 5/8/2009

It is to the public's ultimate benefit that the Court's significance is historically slight. Most of its "significant" cases have been horrendous affirmances of miscarriages of justice, like every single case involving slavery.Like Plessy's affirmance of the whole system of Jim Crow. Like the Korematsu, McKlesky v. Kemp, and its refusal to recognize the continuing erosion of individual rights at the expense of the agenda of the imperial anti-terror state. For every over-rated decision like Brown v. Board, there are a half dozen that are dangerous rubber stamps of executive power grabs, abstention from addressing foreign policy disasters, refusal to extend constutional protections to "new" minorities. The Supreme Court reflects history, it never has been a vanguard for progress or human rights, and those who think one President's ability to change the institutionally reactionary nature of the Court with new appointments, just haven't read the history of the Court and the political history of the country in an integrated way. Souter is correct, maybe more so than he intended. He won't missed.