WASHINGTON -- President Bush spent 45 minutes Monday talking with federal appeals Judge David Hackett Souter and concluded that as a nominee for the Supreme Court he would be accepted 'for his excellence and brilliance.'
Following Bush's surprise announcement that Souter was his choice to succeed the retired Justice William Brennan, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater filled in some of the details on how Souter was selected.
The soft-spoken Souter, 50, arrived in Washington Sunday night at the request of the White House and stayed with friends. Two other possible nominees on the 'short list' of three candidates also 'were here,' Fitzwater said.
It was not clear whether Bush interviewed the other two prospects, but Bush did meet with aides late Sunday and had some spare time Monday morning before beginning public activities.
Souter, like Bush a New England Episcopalian and Ivy League graduate, was summoned to the White House Monday afternoon and met with the president from 1:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. in the family quarters.
Also present were John Sununu, White House chief of staff who as governor of New Hampshire had named Souter to the New Hampshire Supreme Court; Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, and Boyden Gray, the White House counsel.
After that interview, Fitzwater said that the president took a large yellow legal pad and black marker and 'wrote down three pages of Souter's pluses and minuses' and three more pages of his conclusions.
'He listed all the qualities that would make him an excellent justice,' said Fitzwater, 'and he concluded that Souter would be seen for his excellence and brilliance.'
Fitzwater said the conversation between Bush and Souter was 'very general and the president asked him for his views on the court system.' Bush did not ask Souter's positions on any specific subject, the spokesman said.
At 4:15 p.m., Souter was invited to the Oval Office where Bush offered him the nomination. Fitzwater said that Souter said he was 'very honored.'
Fitzwater said that the president 'very consciously' tried not to ask Souter his views on the emotional issues that may come before the court, including abortion, affirmative action, flag burning, and school prayer.
At 5 p.m., Bush walked into the White House press center room with Souter, Sununu, Thornburgh and Gray to formally announce the selection.
Bush fielded a number of questions, particularly on what views he had solicited from Souter. He held his ground insisting that it would not have been 'appropriate' to ask Souter about matters that that may come before the court.
The president also made it clear that he did not want Souter to answer any substantive questions before Senate confirmation hearings get underway. Bush said he expected smooth sailing for the nomination, particularly since the Senate confirmed him April 27 for the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals based in Boiston.
After their appearance before the media, Bush and Souter retreated to the Oval Office where they watched the first re-runs of the news conference on television.
Later, Sununu took Souter in tow and the justice-designate filled out some necessary papers in the chief of staff's office.
Aides said that although they are good friends, Sununu did not initiate the choice of Souter.
Souter is a bachelor, a Republican and a Harvard graduate who was also a Rhodes scholar. One aide said he is an 'extremely serious thoughtful individual.'
'He's no backslapper,' the aide said.
Attired in a gray striped suit, the soft-spoken Souter looked shell-shocked as he stood on the platform with Bush. He had only a few words to say about his appointment, indicating it would take many hours to express his feelings.