Souter Conservative Mindset, Careful Jurist

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By Ruth Marcus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 26, 1990

During his seven years on the New Hampshire Supreme Court, David Hackett Souter wrote more than 200 opinions reflecting the grab bag of issues that are the staple of state supreme courts -- focused more often on mundane and technical legal issues than questions of sweeping constitutional magnitude.

When John and Margaret Ogonowski of Pelham tore down their one-car garage and put up a two-car structure in its place, Souter ruled in favor of their neighbors who claimed they had violated local zoning laws.

In a slip-and-fall case involving a building leased by the state welfare department, he said the state was not subject to being sued. He decided real estate disputes, contract fights, divorce battles and child-support cases -- for example, whether a laid off USAir pilot was responsible for paying his daughter's freshman-year expenses at Middlebury College.

His opinions offer neither ringing rhetoric about the importance of constitutional rights nor slashing attacks on current constitutional jurisprudence.

In that, President Bush's selection of Souter for the Supreme Court reflects a dramatic change from former president Ronald Reagan's failed nomination of Robert H. Bork, who in his judicial rulings and academic writings had expressed an opinion -- often negative -- on the state of nearly every aspect of modern constitutional law.

Souter, in contrast, has only one published law review article -- a tribute to a New Hampshire Supreme Court justice. His views on specific issues -- particularly abortion and civil rights -- are a cipher, and likely largely to remain so through the confirmation process.

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