Monday, May 11, 2009

Souter's Retirement Raises New Questions

Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a consistent supporter of safe and legal abortion, has announced his impending retirement – prompting Court observers to wonder who Souter’s replacement will be.

The Supreme Court is a critical arena for reproductive rights issues. Yet today’s Court is, as NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan points out, in a tenuous position. Justices Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts are all anti-choice, and Justice Anthony Kennedy – widely considered the Court’s swing vote on the issue – voted with the majority in Gonzales v. Carhart, a case that weakened protections for women’s reproductive health.

As Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights notes, “since Justice David Souter joined the bench in 1990, there’s been a substantial shift in the acceptance and protection of reproductive rights worldwide. More countries, courts, and human rights bodies around the world have recognized that reproductive rights are human rights. Even countries that have historically neglected women’s reproductive health and freedom have affirmed that women’s health is vital to their societies’ health and committed to justice.”

The retirement of Justice Souter provides an opportunity for President Obama to nominate a justice who has a strong understanding of the realities of women’s lives. President Obama has expressed his commitment to nominate justices with “empathy.” It is crucial that President Obama select a nominee who will support the precedent of Roe v. Wade and empathize with women who need access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion.

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