Not a lot of analysis here, just a personal reflection. In the fall of 1990 I was fresh out of law school and had been Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, for less than a year.
My boss was the very authentic, old-fashioned, country liberal from Illinois, Senator Paul Simon. As a partisan, I was deeply suspicious of the nomination from the first President Bush. I had worked on the Dukakis campaign and I'm sure I held a grudge. In my memory, the White House was giving conservatives all kinds of signals that they could trust Souter, and I remember thinking that there must have been some kind of private assurances given that Souter was more conservative than he could be shown to be, especially on the subject of abortion/choice.
One exchange from the confirmation hearings I remember in particular. Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio was pressing Souter hard on the abortion issue, and Souter delivered a response that had clearly been prepared very carefully. He told a story about a friend in college who had found herself pregnant, and who had come to Souter for advice. So he paints this picture that shows great empathy for the circumstances his friend was in, but the bottom line was, of course, what advice did he give?
And Souter says, something like (I'm sure someone can find this in the transcript): "Senator, I'm not going to reveal what we said, and I'm sure you will respect the privacy of that conversation."
It looked to me at the time like a huge dodge. And it worked! Metzenbaum was nonplussed, which was not an easy thing to do, and we couldn't gain any additional traction on the issue. I was a callow 28-year-old, and I was sure he had just made the whole thing up to feign sympathy for women.
Of course, we all know how things ended up. It was conservatives and pro-lifers who felt betrayed, and liberals and pro-choicers who were pleasantly surprised. Souter's story was a calculated hedge that worked in both directions. I still don't know if it was true.