U.S. Supreme Court

Few Zinger Quotes from Souter Reflect His Cautious Approach


Retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter had few zinger quotes in his legal opinions, a reflection of his incremental approach to decision-making.

Fred Shapiro, the editor of The Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations, asked constitutional law professors for memorable Souter quotes, and received four suggestions, the New York Times reports. Only two came from his legal opinions written during his 19 years on the bench.

The other two quotes were from outside the courtroom. They are:

“The day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

“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.”

Shapiro says Souter isn’t the only justice with a bland writing style. “The contemporary Supreme Court is woefully lacking in eloquence,” Shapiro told the Times. “Justice Souter, despite being an intelligent jurist with a wry sense of humor, is as eloquence-challenged as the others, and there are few memorable lines in his opinions.”

The Times says the lack of zingers in opinions “reflects a wariness of grand theories and the consensus among admirers and detractors alike that his influence is likely to be limited.” The story says Souter is “by temperament and design, a low-impact justice” who makes incremental adjustments in legal doctrine.

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