Seeking Out the Essential David Souter

By Ruth Marcus and Joe Pichirallo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 9, 1990

CONCORD, N.H. -- On May 1, 1977, more than 2,000 protesters occupied the grounds of the Seabrook power plant, chanting against nuclear power, flying kites and playing Frisbee. New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thomson Jr. arrived by helicopter to survey the scene. Network news crews filmed the demonstration, billed as the largest in the nation against nuclear power.

As the crowd grew, the state attorney general, David Hackett Souter, sat calmly in a vacant office at the plant, using the free time to write up the minutes of the Concord Hospital Board of Trustees, on which he served as secretary.

"I was colossally bored," Souter explained shortly after the event. "Listening to . . . a bunch of 20-year-old kids, as nice as they may be, just repeat over and over again, 'Kill the nuke. Kill the nuke' . . . that gets pretty boring after a while."

The story about President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court suggests the otherworldliness of the man, who is often characterized by friends as a figure from another century. They describe him as a catalogue of such Puritan virtues as humility, probity, thrift and industry; a disciplined, self-reliant New Englander who is happiest collecting rare books, reading volumes of history or hiking the White Mountains.

"He really comes across as someone who has just sort of climbed out of the pages of a history book," said Melvin Levine, a close friend of Souter's since their days as Rhodes scholars. "He has these basic roots and values."

When Souter was appointed New Hampshire attorney general in 1976, his colleagues celebrated with a cake inscribed, "Forward into the 19th century." The 50-year-old jurist had so rarely used a credit card that he worried, after Bush tapped him for the court, about having enough credit to finance the frequent trips to Washington to prepare for his confirmation hearings, which begin this week. 'He's Not Like Most of Us'

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 1990 The Washington Post Company