Paul  Kengor

Is he pro-life or pro-choice? That was the giant unknown hanging in the balance one day in 1990 as President George H. W. Bush nominated a mystery man named David Souter for a Supreme Court seat. Both sides of the abortion issue badly wanted answers. I remember those debates, and especially the uncertainty.

America got its answer in 1992 in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, a seminal decision bearing the name of Pennsylvania’s pro-life Democrat governor. In that landmark case, Justice David Souter was the decisive swing vote in the narrow 5-4 majority, enshrining Roe v. Wade as law of the land.

Among those most euphoric over Souter’s vote were two liberal Senators from opposing parties: Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Senator Warren Rudman (R-N.H.).

Rudman had pushed the Souter nomination. He ensured liberal colleagues that Souter was their guy. Rudman, a pro-choice Republican, had been Souter’s boss at the New Hampshire office of attorney general. He privately concluded that Souter would not vote against Roe. Rudman’s reasons, which he acknowledged only after he left the Senate, ranged from the legal to humanitarian: Given that Souter was “a compassionate human being,” averred Rudman, he would naturally support continued legalization of abortion—which has produced the deaths of over 40 million unborn babies since 1973.

But Rudman’s allies on the Democratic side weren’t so sure. And Rudman had to walk a fine line, since his pro-life president wanted a pro-life justice. So, Rudman quietly sought to assuage liberals. He urged them to trust him.

That silent trust was critical, since Souter’s position on abortion had to be dealt with stealthily. In fact, it was handled so delicately that the nominee’s true thinking was apparently unknown even to the White House.

Alas, with Casey v. Planned Parenthood, America had its answer, as Souter authorized the sanctity of Roe v. Wade.

As fate would have it, on that same day Senator Rudman and Senator Joe Biden bumped into each other at the train station, not in Washington, DC but in Wilmington, Delaware.

“At first, I didn’t see Joe; then I spotted him waving at me from far down the platform,” Rudman later recorded in his memoirs, Combat: Twelve Years in the U.S. Senate. “Joe had agonized over his vote for David, and I knew how thrilled he must be. We started running through the crowd toward each other, and when we met, we embraced, laughing and crying.”