Obama: Selection of New High Court Justice a Top Responsibility

President Obama said Friday that he intends to consult with Democrats and Republicans "across the political spectrum" before nominating a candidate for the Supreme Court.

The president also hopes to swear in a replacement for outgoing Justice David Souter in time for "him or her" to be seated by the first Monday in October – when the high court's new term begins.

"The process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as president," Obama said Friday during a press briefing after speaking with 69-year-old Souter.

"So I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity," the president added. " I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book. It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives – whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation."

Obama made his remarks less than a day after news of Souter's plan to retire this year leaked to the media and after a retirement letter that Souter wrote to the president was made public.

In the brief two-sentence letter, Souter confirmed his intention to retire as a justice when the high court goes into the summer recess. Though the reasons for his retirement have not yet been revealed, his widely known distaste for Washington is thought to be among them.

Health-wise, Souter is in good shape, being a regular jogger and younger than six of the other eight justices. He has served the Supreme Court for nearly two decades, nominated by President George H.W. Bush for the position of justice in 1990.

Souter's retirement, though a surprise to some, will not likely to affect the balance of the court as Obama is expected to fill the vacancy with another liberal-leaning judge. The swing vote on the closely divided court is almost always cast by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

However, that could change should Obama's pick shift right as Souter had shifted left.

Though Souter had joined the court as a conservative-leaning moderate, he shifted to the middle after the appointment of Justice Clarence Thomas and over to the left by the late 1990s.

The other justice who is considered most likely to step down soonest is Justice John Paul Stevens, 88, who is widely considered to be on the liberal side of the court.