WASHINGTON -- Is it possible that Justice David H. Souter has sensed what I have sensed in reading the liberals' dutiful adieus to him, their judicial Benedict Arnold? They all are snickering behind their hands. Sure, he pleased them enormously with his 19 years of tergiversations against conservative jurisprudence, after being President George H.W. Bush's "conservative" Supreme Court nominee. But through all Souter's years here in Washington, he revealed himself to be a stupendously self-absorbed oddball and not much else. He fell far short of the liberals' conception of a progressive Supreme Court dissenter, to wit: a charismatic, outspoken, slightly outre intellectual on the model of William O. Douglas.
Souter has been, as The Washington Post puts it, notable for his "quirky independence in spurning the right." The operative word here is "quirky." It is not meant as a compliment. Our liberals admire eccentricity but not the eccentricity of a misanthropic loner. Thus, in every supposedly friendly retrospective that I have read of him since he informed the Democratic president that he, a Republican's Supreme Court nominee, is retiring, the liberals have stressed his weirdness: the misfit, the loner, the guy whose luncheon consists of yogurt and an apple, which he eats "core and all." That was The New York Times speaking. On the front page of its "Week in Review" section, the newspaper ran a huge picture of him from years ago, in which he is wearing a silly plaid suit, the collar of his shirt vaguely reminiscent of Calvin Coolidge, his face expressionless but his eyes large and glistening, like the caricatures one used to see of girls with huge Bambi-like eyes. Another Times picture shows him in a coat and tie hastening past his ramshackle, unpainted, wooden farmhouse, situated at the end of an unmarked dirt road in rural New Hampshire. Some locals have thought it was abandoned.