Souter's Exit Opens Door for a More Influential Justice

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A couple of days ago, Fred R. Shapiro, the editor of The Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations, asked constitutional law scholars for memorable quotations from Justice David H. Souter of the Supreme Court.

Mr. Shapiro got only four responses. One was about television coverage of the court (“The day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body”). Another concerned the limited pleasures of reading legal briefs rather than serious books (“I find the workload of what I do sufficiently great that when the term of court starts I undergo a sort of annual intellectual lobotomy”).

Just two quotations came from the hundreds of opinions that Justice Souter, who is retiring in June, wrote in his 19 years on the court. Neither had much juice to it.

Writing zingers is, of course, not an important qualification for the job of Supreme Court justice. But the absence of memorable writing in Justice Souter’s work reflects a wariness of grand theories and the consensus among admirers and detractors alike that his influence is likely to be limited.

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