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Souter Says Farewell to Supreme Court Colleagues

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter made a habit of avoiding public acclaim during almost two decades in Washington.

For just a few minutes on Monday, he opened up a bit, saying in public how much his life had been enriched by the strong bonds forged with his fellow justices.

Reading aloud from a letter to his colleagues, Souter noted that he will not be sitting with the court again, but neither "will I retire from our friendship, which has held us together despite the pull of the most passionate dissent."

That pull was on display on Souter's last day, with the justice on the losing end of a 5-4 decision that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, were unfairly denied promotions because of their race.

"We have agreed or contended with each other over those things that matter to decent people in a civil society," Souter wrote in his letter.

Souter's sentiments were a reply to his eight colleagues, who told him in a letter of their own that "we have all felt a profound sense of loss" over his decision to retire and return home to New Hampshire.

"We understand your desire to trade white marble for White Mountains," the justices wrote in their letter, which Chief Justice John Roberts read in court. The White Mountains are a chain in Souter's beloved home state of New Hampshire.

In reply, Souter wrote that "your generous letter has touched me more than I can say."

As various justices made the rounds of Washington's social scene, wrote books, appeared on television, even donned opera costumes for a night, Souter had no use for the benefits that come with celebrity in the nation's capital.

Souter maintained a small apartment in the city's southwest quadrant, close to a military installation where he would jog regularly in the evenings.

FAREWELL LETTER SIGNED BY THE REMAINING MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME COURT AND RETIRED JUSTICE SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR TO RETIRING JUSTICE DAVID SOUTER:

Dear David,

We have all felt a profound sense of loss since the announcement of your decision to retire. For nearly twenty years, the Court has had the benefit of your wisdom, civility, and dedication to the cause of justice. Your keen intellect and broad knowledge have enlarged our deliberations and enriched the Court's jurisprudence.

We deeply value the times we have shared in judicial service. We understand your desire to trade white marble for White Mountains, and return to your land "of easy wind and downy flake." Though you will not be among us in our daily labors, we are grateful that the privilege of your sturdy friendship will endure long beyond your departure from the bench and tables we have shared.

Affectionately,

(Members of the court)

FAREWELL LETTER TO THE SUPREME COURT BY RETIRING JUSTICE DAVID SOUTER:

Dear Colleagues,

Your generous letter has touched me more than I can say, and I will only try to leave you with some sense of what our common service has meant to me. You quoted the Poet, and I will, too, in words that set out the ideal of the life engaged, "...where love and need are one..."

That phrase accounts for the finest moments of my life on this Court, as we have agreed or contended with each other over those things that matter to decent people in a civil society. For nineteen Terms, I have lived that life with you, all of us sharing our own best years with one another, working side by side as fellow servants and as friends.

I will not sit with you at our bench again after the Court rises for the Summer this time, but neither will I retire from our friendship, which has held us together despite the pull of the most passionate dissent. It has made the work lighter through all my tenure here, and for as long as I live, I will be thankful for it, and be under a very grateful obligation to each one of you.

Yours affectionately,

David