Experts: Texas Tech Political Science Experts Can Discuss Souter's Retirement, Balance of Power on the Supreme Court

Three Texas Tech experts can comment on what most likely will happen next as the president decides on a nominee and the Senate moves to confirm.

More than 18 years after his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court by President George H.W. Bush, Justice David Hackett Souter will retire after the court recesses in June. Three Texas Tech experts can comment on what most likely will happen next as the president decides on a nominee and the Senate moves to confirm. Though originally believed to be a conservative-leaning judge, Souter proved fairly moderate in the beginning. Eventually, he was called a traitor by many Republicans for his increasingly leftist viewpoints. Now, some wonder who will fill his place on the court, and how the power will balance. Mark McKenzie, an assistant professor of political science at Texas Tech with expertise on the Supreme Court, said Souter's decision to step down hardly comes as a surprise. Despite the fact Obama will most likely name a liberal nominee as Souter's replacement, the right-tilting court voting won't change much. "I figured Souter would be the first to step down because there's been talk of him getting tired of Washington politics and wanting to step down for some time," he said. "I read something in The New York Times that Obama may choose Solicitor General Elena Kagan as Souter's replacement. I have no inside information on this, but I would guess Obama would be looking for a woman. "However, the court still tilts right and will continue to do so after Souter leaves. I don't think the behavior of the court will change. You're going to continue to see a lot of 5-4 rulings, with Justice Anthony Kennedy serving as the swing vote." Timothy Nokken, assistant professor of political science, has expertise in the Senate's justice confirmation practices. Whomever Obama chooses to nominate to replace Souter should have a fairly smooth Senate confirmation - that is, if they survive the media gauntlet first. "Barring some sort of unforeseen scandal, I don't think there will be any sort of serious threats to the nominee," Nokken said. "Souter's retirement is not a departure that's going to change the ideological balance of the court. If he was replacing Clarence Thomas or Sam Alito it would be a different story. But you've got a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate replacing a fairly liberal justice. There may be some Republican complaints, but nothing extraordinary such as filibustering or rejecting a nominee." Craig A. Goodman is an assistant professor of political science with expertise in the Supreme Court, Congress and the president. He said that Arlen Specter's defection this week will play a role in Republican control of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The defection of Senator Specter creates a vacancy for the Ranking Member on Judiciary and it will force the Republicans to address this within their conference as soon as possible because whoever assumes that position will play a critical role in leading the potential opposition," Goodman said. "Furthermore, the rules of the Judiciary Committee require at least one member of the minority to support bringing a matter to a vote. So the defection of Senator Specter could make that vote more challenging for Democrats to find. "I expect that the process President Obama uses for choosing a nominee will be much more organized than it was when President Clinton had an opportunity to make his first appointment in 1993. The choice might inspire controversy, but the process will be much closer to the one President Bush utilized." Find Texas Tech news, experts and story ideas at www.media.ttu.edu. CONTACT: Mark McKenzie, assistant professor of political science, Texas Tech University, (806) 791-1149 or mark.mckenzie@ttu.edu. Timothy Nokken, assistant professor of political science, Texas Tech University, (806) 559-2535 or timothy.nokken@ttu.edu; Craig A. Goodman, assistant professor of political science, Texas Tech University, (806) 790-8715 or craig.goodman@ttu.edu.