David Hackett Souter: Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court

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When the first President Bush chose David Hackett Souter for the Supreme Court in 1990, the slender New Englander with the shy demeanor and ambiguous past was quickly dubbed a "stealth candidate". Since his appointment, Souter has embraced a flexible, evolving, and highly pragmatic judicial style that embraces a high regard for precedent—even liberal decisions of the Warren and Burger Courts with which he may have personally disagreed. Ultimately, Yarbrough contends, Souter has become the principal Rehnquist Court opponent of the originalist, text-bound jurisprudence that many of the more conservative Justices profess to champion. Sifting through Souter's opinions, papers of the Justice's contemporaries and other relevant records and interviews, esteemed Supreme Court biographer Tinsley Yarbrough here gives us the real David Souter, crafting a fascinating account of one of the heretofore most elusive Justices in the history of the Court.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A detailed and sympathetic portrait of the justice, and its account of Souter's confirmation is particularly salient at the moment."—Emily Bazelon, Washington Post Bookworld

"... helps readers understand how it [the Supreme Court] addresses hot-button social issues. His book is illuminating for anyone wishing to follow current Supreme Court confirmation issues."—Library Journal

"Incisive, judicious... gets to the core of Souter—and of today's political climate.... At a time when the Supreme Court is once again being remade, this biography opens up the world of one of the court's most intriguing members."—Publishers Weekly

"Tinsley Yarbrough provides a marvelous portrait of David Souter both as a jurist and as a man, and explains why his traditional New England conservatism has made him a key member of the centrist coalition that has dominated the Supreme Court for over a decade. And, sadly, he also makes clear why the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party will never, if it can help it, allow another such open-minded person on the nation's highest court."—Melvin I. Urofsky, Professor of History and Public Policy, Virginia Commonwealth University

"[Yarbrough] skillfully blends Souter's personal and professional life in an amalgam that is both enlightening and entertaining....Highly recommended."—CHOICE

"Yarbrough has written a masterful, very human, portrait of America's 105th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, David Hackett Souter. As with Yarbrough's other biographies of American jurists, he, seemingly effortlessly, captures the essential qualities of Souter's personality, jurisprudence, and his work on the Court and presents these insights in beautifully written yet thoroughly scholarly prose. After reading this book, one "knows" Justice Souter,"Hackett," the way one "knows" a very close friend."—Howard Ball, author of Murder in Mississippi

"Tinsley Yarbrough, the most prolific living biographer of Supreme Court justices, has done it again. This time he has given us a readable, carefully researched, and persuasively argued book about David H. Souter, a traditional Republican who has forthrightly supported liberal positions on civil liberties and abortion. Today, Yarbrough cogently explains, Souter would never be appointed by George W. Bush, the son of the president that did appoint him. Yarbrough mixes personal history with a careful understanding of the case law, the other justices, and the larger political climate to produce a compelling study in both judicial style and courage."—Kermit L. Hall, President and Professor of History, State University of New York at Albany

"Conservatives view the first President Bush's appointment of David H. Souter as a huge miscalculation, and the results seem to bear them out. Souter has voted with the liberals on abortion, separation of church and state, federal legislative power, and Bush v. Gore. In this penetrating analysis, Tinsley E. Yarbrough attributes Justice Souter's decisions to an unwilligness to uproot precedent and a respect for "our settled law." Yarbrough persuasively depicts Souter as an exemplar of the common-law tradition and places him squarely in the mold of Yarbrough's previous subject, the second Justice Harlan."—John Jeffries, Dean, University of Virginia School of Law

Publishers Weekly
Little was known about either the personal life or the judicial philosophy of Souter when he was appointed to the High Court in 1990, and that remains true today. As this incisive, judicious biography points out, that's probably how the justice wants it. But Yarbrough, a professor at East Carolina University (The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution), gets to the core of Souter-and of today's political climate. From his childhood, Souter had many traditional New Englander traits-for instance, hardworking and thrifty-that he continues to this day, eschewing some of the perks afforded high court justices. Yarbrough points out that Souter developed a judicial philosophy emphasizing tradition and precedent. This made him an alluring nominee to the top bench in the wake of the Robert Bork debacle. But as Yarbrough also shows by delineating Souter's decisions, in refusing to overturn court precedent on such hot-button issues as abortion and affirmative action-and in opposing the Court's decision to end all recounts in the 2000 election-Souter's approach has made him a disappointment to conservative hard-liners. At a time when the Supreme Court is once again being remade, this biography opens up the world of one of the court's most intriguing members. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Yarbrough (political science, East Carolina Univ.; The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution) analyzes the life, career, and jurisprudence of one of the Rehnquist Court's most intriguing justices, whose regard for precedent and "settled law" has driven him in a decidedly different direction than other Reagan-Bush appointees. The author portrays Souter's upbringing in small-town New England and his education at Harvard Law School, where his independence became clear as he eschewed rarefied social circles and counseled students instead of writing for the law review. Upon graduation, he chose raising pigs over making money, joining a small firm near his New Hampshire farm-a decision that reflects his approach to the law. Since the early 1990s, his High Court opinions have moved left on social issues while remaining generally conservative in criminal procedure cases. Yarbrough sees the Supreme Court as a stabilizing force in society and helps readers understand how it addresses hot-button social issues. His book is illuminating for anyone wishing to follow current Supreme Court confirmation issues. Highly recommended across a wide range of collections: academic, public, and legal.-Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., First Judicial District Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195159332
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/15/2005
  • Series: Transgressing Boundaries Ser.
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Tinsley E. Yarbrough is Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor, Department of Political Science, East Carolina University. His books include The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution, Judicial Enigma: The First Justice Harlan, John Marshall Harlan: Great Dissenter of the Warren Court, and Judge Frank Johnson and Human Rights in Alabama, for which he won an ABA Silver Gavel Award. He lives in Greenville, North Carolina.

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Table of Contents

1. New England Yankee
2. New Hampshire Judge
3. "Stealth Candidate"
4. Common Law Justice
5. Constitutional Nationalist
6. Traditional Republican
Bibliographical Note

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