On the shores of Newfound Lake in the foothills of the White Mountains, David H. Souter is undergoing his last training session before the Sept. 13 hearings on his qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice.
A team led by Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), Souter's chief sponsor, will put him through his paces. Former Reagan White House counsel A.B. Culvahouse, Bush White House congressional liaison Fred McClure and former New Hampshire attorney general Tom Rath are assembled in Rath's summer home amid "On Golden Pond" scenery. They are throwing questions at him and showing him tapes of previous confirmations, with special attention to the failed sessions of Robert H. Bork.
Their most important task may be to draft a lengthy statement, which all are agreed is essential, to tell people who Souter really is. He is a figure shrouded in mystery. He came through his Senate courtesy calls without any bruises or scars, but he did not make much of an impression or reinforce the raves that came from friends and associates.
He seemed like a boy called to the principal's office, looking meek and as if he hoped people would not notice him. He stood by smiling faintly while reporters and photographers crowded around him, as he diffidently greeted members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, his prospective judges.
Extensive opening remarks, which will define him as a person (he has no family to do it for him), give his philosophy, his professional and legal history, could dispel the notion of a bloodless, bookish loner. It is known he loves the New Hampshire countryside. What is less known is how he feels about people, particularly people in trouble with the law.
Some of the tension has been drained out of the nomination. Until Saddam Hussein gave the order for the tanks to roll, it was Washington's principal source of suspense and mystery. But the Middle East, which changed so much on the political landscape, has also transformed the Souter confirmation into virtually a done deal.
Senators do not wish to be seen giving a hard time to the commander in chief at a moment when he has won worldwide plaudits for his swift and sure organization of resistance to the conquest of Kuwait -- no matter how his nominee answers crucial questions about abortion.
His trainers believe that the issue may not come up frontally. Even outspoken Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) has indicated that it might be "inappropriate" to press the nominee for his views on Roe v. Wade. It is more likely that the approach will be from the "privacy" angle. He may be asked about Griswold v. Connecticut, which concerns the right of married couples to use contraceptives in their homes.
In the majority opinion, Justice William O. Douglas wrote: "Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship."
Souter's views on privacy could cast light on his attitude toward abortion rights. Proponents of abortion rights argue that it is a decision between a woman and her physician, not one in which the state has any standing.
Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee made public a questionnaire filled out by Souter, in which he was notably noncommital. Much more revealing, and wholly unexpected from a former attorney general of New Hampshire, was Souter's brief on gun control. It's the first document showing the literary touch and wit that fans have claimed for him.
Former Virginia governor Gerald Baliles (D), for instance, remembers Souter from their days together as attorneys general as a gifted writer, and the 1976 brief -- uncovered, to its great joy, by the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence -- gives a glimmer of Souter's talents.
The Second Amendment, which the National Rifle Association lives by, Souter wrote, was "merely a prohibition of federal suppression of state militias, and did not create any right to carry dangerous weapons."
"Even in the State of Texas, a jurisdiction steeped in the lore of the wild west, of the quick draw and the showdown at high noon, it has been held that the state may, in the interest of public safety, prohibit carrying a pistol on one's person . . . .
"Surely no contrary result could be reached in a jurisdiction where no state constitutional right to bear arms exists, and where the war whoop of hostile Indians was last heard in 1763."
This from an attorney general of a vociferously pro-gun state was a delightful surprise, and the Souter training team is hoping to provide others.