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White House Comments on Justice Souter

President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance in today’s regular White House press briefing to personally confirm Justice David H. Souter’s retirement. He said he spoke to Justice Souter on the phone and told him he was “incredibly grateful for his dedicated service.”  President Obama intends to have a replacement on the bench when the 2009 Term begins in October. Video of the president’s comments is available here. 

Praising Justice Souter, the president said: “He has shown what it means to be a fair-minded and independent judge. He came to the bench with no  particular ideology. He never sought to promote a political agenda. He consistently defied labels and rejected absolutes, focusing instead on just one task:  reaching a just result in the case that was before him. He approached judging as he approaches life, with a feverish work ethic and a good sense of humor, with integrity, equanimity and compassion, the hallmark of not just being a good judge but of being a good person.”

On the selection of a replacement, President Obama said he will seek someone with a “sharp and independent mind, and a record of excellence and integrity… someone who understands justice is not about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook, it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of peoples’ lives. Whether they can make a living, and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.” He said he views “that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”

He will “seek someone who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role…who shares [his] respect for the constitutional values for which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding for how to apply them in our time.”

Gibbs said that President Obama hopes to have a nominee selected “well before the end of July”  as Congress will be “out of Washington” for August. He will “somewhat quickly pick up the phone and reach out to members of both parties” to see what is important and what they want to see in a nominee. When asked about how President Obama reacted to Chief Justice Roberts’ nomination when he was a Senator, Gibbs suggested reading Obama’s floor statement on his views on the role of a Supreme Court justice, available here.