POTUS Interrupts Press Briefing to Announce Souter’s Retirement, Announce Qualifications for Next Supreme

May 1, 2009 3:45pm

ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:

"If there’s a job to do, you’ve got to do it yourself," President Obama said as he interrupted White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’ daily press briefing today.

"See you guys later, have a good weekend," Gibbs joked, stepping off the platform and to the side.

"This is kind of cool, Robert," said the president as he took the podium.

"It’s way cooler than it seems," Gibbs said.

"Yes, absolutely," agreed the president. 

"The reason I am interrupting Robert is not because he’s not doing a good job, he’s doing an unbelievable job," the president said, "but it’s because I just got off the phone with Justice (David) Souter and I would like to say a few words about his decision to retire from the Supreme Court."

Gibbs had just a few moment before said the White House had received no official notice from Justice Souter, whose retirement was reported last night.

"Throughout this two decades on the Supreme Court, Justice Souter has shown what it means to be a fair minded and independent judge," continued the president. "He came to the bench with no particular ideology. He never sought to promote a political agenda and he consistently defied labels and rejected absolutes, focusing instead on just task: reaching a just result in the case that was before him.

"He approached judging as he approaches life," said Mr. Obama, "with a feverish work ethic and a good sense of humor, with integrity, equanimity, and compassion — the hallmark of not just being a good judge but being a good person. I am incredibly grateful for his dedicated service. I told him as much when we spoke. I spoke on behalf of the American people thanking him for his service.  I wished him safe travels on his journey home to his beloved New Hampshire and on the road ahead."

The president then turned to "the process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter," calling it "among my most serious responsibilities as president."

"I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind, and a record of excellence and integrity," he said. "I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book, it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living, and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes, and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with peoples hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes."

Continued the former constitutional law lecturer: "I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding on how to apply them in our time."

The president said he would "consult with members of both parties across the political spectrum and it is my hope that we can swear in our new Supreme Court Justice in time for him or her to be seated by the first Monday in October when the courts new term begins.

"And with that," the president said, "I would like you to give Robert a tough time again."

– Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

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