While on the bench, Souther had a reputation for being one of the more enigmatic and unpredictable of the high court’s nine justices.
Souter was born in Melrose, Massachusetts on Sept. 17, 1939 as the only child to Joseph A. Souter and Helen Hackett Souter, but spent most of his childhood and adolescence at his family’s farm in Weare, New Hampshire.
After earning degrees from Harvard University and Magdalen College at Oxford University, Souter returned to New Hampshire in 1966 to work for the law firm of Orr and Reno. Souter left private practice two years later to join the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office.
When Warren B. Rudman became the state’s attorney general in 1971, he selected Souter as his deputy. During the five years Souter served under Rudman, the two formed a lifelong friendship; Rudman would later help sponsor Souter’s Supreme Court nomination.
When Rudman stepped down in 1976, then-New Hampshire Gov. Meldrin Thompson appointed Souter as attorney general.
In 1978, Souter became an associate justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court, the state’s trial court of general jurisdiction, which made rounds from county to county. Newly elected New Hampshire governor John Sununu appointed Souter to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 1983. Seven years later, as President George Bush’s Chief of Staff, Sununu recommended Souter for a position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Souter assumed that job in April 1990.
Just months later, Souter was nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court, winning Senate confirmation in October by a vote of 90 to 9. The press quickly dubbed Souter the “stealth justice,” since his professional record provoked little, if any, controversy.
During his years on the bench, Souter gradually established himself as an influential moderate with a respect for precedent and for adhering to the rule of law.
Souter remains a staunch opponent of televising court proceedings, remarking in 1996, “I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”