Dominic McCaffrey: Lies, Liberals, and the Law: David Souter and the United States Supreme Court

wood ceiling

Hey guys!

At the end of May, I boarded a flight and headed for “Aggieland”, otherwise known as College Station, Texas (home of the Texas A&M University Aggies). Housed on the A&M campus is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) owned and operated George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Over the course of a week, I delved into the depths of the archives to see what they could offer to shed light on the enigmatic former Supreme Court of the United States Justice David Souter. In being nominated to the court by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, the presidential library houses any and all documents concerning Souter handled by the White House during the presidency. I contacted the archivists in advance letting them know of my arrival, and asking if they could pull any relevant material.

On Monday morning, I arrived at the Library. I was given a short introductory briefing which outlined NARA policies with regards to handling primary source material housed in the archives. Next, I was led into the reading room where over 4 carts of boxes, each containing dozens of files, each containing hundreds of pages, was waiting for me. Cross-referencing the files and documents with a finding-aid documenting all relevant material I had prepared by using the archive website, I got to work moving through the documents.


My camera roll is a little inundated with photos taken of the documents in these otherwise bland-looking files

The folders themselves were like treasure chests of information. Inside them were handwritten letters from the President, from Justice Souter, from the White House administrative staff… In addition to this, there were hundreds of newspaper clippings that the White House had gathered, all of which concerned David Souter and his nomination. And yet the material didn’t stop there. There was a copy of every opinion Justice Souter has ever written, even from his days as a New Hampshire trial judge. There was even a copy of Souter’s senior thesis from Harvard. Needless to say, there was plenty of material to work with, albeit some had been redacted or hidden behind tantalising pages which explained that a Freedom of Information Request is necessary to determine if declassification can happen.


What secrets lie behind these pages?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to use the materials I analysed to paint a picture – with words, obviously – of what the White House thought of David Souter. From there, I will situate Souter’s nomination in the wider conservative legal movement of the 1980s and 1990s.

The process has been lots of fun so far, and I can thoroughly recommend using a Presidential Library to conduct research! The staff were amazingly friendly and willing to do everything they could to help.


Because I was only a short drive away, I also visited the fantastic LBJ Library in Austin