The Heritage Foundation released the following statement yesterday by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III concerning the announcement of Justice David Souter’s pending retirement from the Supreme Court. Meese is chairman of Heritage’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.

“Justice Souter’s decision to retire presents President Obama and the U.S. Senate with a decision of great and lasting importance. Although no originalist, Justice Souter rejected a liberal, activist approach on a number of important cases, particularly in the areas of crime, punishment, and lawsuit abuse. Supreme Court appointments are among the most important decisions of any presidency, but what is at stake is a potential shift from a center-left justice to a far-left justice.

“Americans have a right to expect the nomination of a justice who will fully obey his or her oath to preserve the Constitution, someone with a proven fidelity to the original meaning of the Constitution and laws as written. An essential qualification is that the nominee take the text of our Constitution and laws seriously. Americans neither want nor need a justice who looks for excuses to depart from the legal text and read into it what he or she wants.

“As a senator and again today in the White House, President Obama has made statements that suggest he either does not understand these fundamental principles or that he does not agree with the important, but limited, role judges are given under the Constitution. Essentially, the president has signaled that he wants judges who would let their sympathies trump what the laws require. Americans don’t want judges who will bend the law toward the side they favor; they want a fair judge who will apply the law in the same way—as the people’s representatives in the legislature wrote it—regardless of who is before the court.

“Given President Obama’s troubling statements, Americans expect the U.S. Senate to conduct a thoughtful and searching inquiry into the nominee’s approach to judging. That inquiry must be allowed to proceed without arbitrary timetables. And, at the end of the day, the Senate must be sure it does not grant a would-be activist life-time authority to bend the Constitution and laws in favor of his or her personal, political, or social beliefs. Our constitutional system and the American people require no less.”