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Souter Seals His Secrets, but Rabble Guesses Them Anyway

Retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter is donating his personal and professional papers to the New Hampshire Historical Society, reports The National Law Journal's Tony Mauro. But in a move that adds yet another epithet to the long list of his eccentricities, the D.C.-hating, apple-core-eating, wood-cabin-inhabiting, Luddite justice is also secretive: His donation came with the caveat that public access to his papers must be restricted for 50 years.

"The unusually severe bar on access is surprising in one sense," Mauro writes, "but very Souter-esque in another."

Souter is an avid historian -- in fact joining the board of trustees of the New Hampshire Historical Society as part of the announcement of his decision to donate his papers there. He knows well the "call of history," the obligation of historical figures and public officials to help flesh out the how and why of important events.

But Souter is also an intensely private person, especially protective of the Supreme Court on which he served for 19 years. He was a lifelong diarist and may have decided that his files were too sensitive to be made public while any of his colleagues or many of his law clerks are still alive. Other justices have solved similar issues by making some segments of their papers available earlier, others later.

Historians of the court may be disappointed, but fans of speculative Supreme Court fiction (surely that's a genre, no?) can turn to the commentariat over at Althouse for a peek at what Souter might have been writing in his lifelong diary. First, there's the banal:

"Had breakfast. Went to the Post Office to pick up the mail--just an LL Bean catalogue. Don't think I'll be buying anything this year. Returned home to garden, lunch. Carpe diem."

Then there's the overly literal:

First Monday in October
AM: Prepped for annual intellectual lobotomy
PM: Gnu yam pump. Strock hormp!

And then there's a helpful suggestion for the Historical Society to consider, something along the lines of what's being done with George Orwell's diaries:

Isn't he older than 50 years old? Why not publish the 50-yr-old parts of the diary day-by-day? The blog that time forgot, or something.

Of course, there's also the more clear-eyed question of historical significance: 

Will anyone care about Souter in 50 years? Can any non-law professor name a Justice from 50 years ago, besides Warren?

Perhaps that was the sage old justice's plan all along.

Posted by Laurel Newby on August 27, 2009 at 03:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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