WASHINGTON — Justice David Souter plans to retire from the Supreme Court at the end of the court's term in June, news reports said late Thursday.
Speculation that the 69-year-old justice, a New Hampshire Republican who became a key liberal vote on the Supreme Court, would step down had been fueled by his failure to appoint clerks for the fall term.
National Public Radio reported that Souter informed the White House of his intentions and will remain on the bench until a successor is confirmed. NBC News also reported that sources had told it that Souter plans to retire.
The Supreme Court declined to comment.
Souter is in the younger half of the court's age range, with five justices older and just three younger. A retirement would give President Barack Obama his first chance to nominate a justice.
Court observers expect Obama will appoint a woman, since the court currently has only one female justice and Obama was elected with strong support from women. But an Obama pick would be unlikely to change the ideological makeup of the court.
When nominated by President George H.W. Bush, Souter was called a conservative who would vote on the right. But he became a reliable liberal vote on the court after taking his seat in 1990.
He joined in a ruling reaffirming woman's right to an abortion, a decision from 1992 that remains still perhaps his most noted work on the court. He also was one of the four dissenters in the 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore that sealed the presidential election for George W. Bush.
Souter's departure comes as no surprise to his colleagues and others who know him well. He has been in good health, but he intensely dislikes Washington.