That's an all-round weird piece in this morning's NYT on Justice Souter's supposed "lack of influence" (except, of course, as the piece itself makes clear, when he had a lot of influence). But the weirdest point of all may be from John O. McGinnis, saying that Obama should look for "a very good writer."
For the life of me, I cannot uinderstand where McGinnis finds the linkage between quality of workmanship and quality of "writing" on the court. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was perhaps, by common measure, the best writer in the history of the court, was in retrospect a hugely unfortunate judge, famous for dismissing or eliding or oversimplifying dificult issues with a quip ("Three generations of idiots is enough" being, perhaps, the most quoted). Benjamin Nathan Cardozo counts as a good writer in some circles (I join the minority which finds him jjust weirdly baroque). But he certainly wasn't a very influential or important presence on the Supreme Court. William O. Douglas could be slippery and evasive. Hugo Blazck could be oversimplistic. Antonin Scalia always sounds to me like a Fox Network talking head.
I suppose it might depend on what you count as good writing. For my money, both Earl Warren and John Marshall were opaque and pedesterian writers. But they had a way of making their points without letting their personal eccentricities gete in the way. William J. Brennan, who might be the most influential judge of our lifetime, turned bad (or at least abstruse) writing into a form of high judicial art: he could slice and dice the language around almost any issue until he got the much-sought-after fifth vote.
For my money, the best of all Supreme Court writers was Robert Jackson. I'd say he was a good enough judge in his way, but hardly a great one. Indeed, his effectiveness as a writer probably goes a long way to obscuring the fact that there were a lot of other less luminescent stylists who were in general as got or better than he at the job.