June 29th, 2009
12:55 PM ET
5 years ago

Souter says goodbye to high court

Justice Souter said goodbye to his colleagues Monday.
Justice Souter said goodbye to his colleagues Monday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Retiring Justice David Souter said goodbye to his U.S. Supreme Court colleagues Monday, telling them in a brief statement he read from the bench that they had "touched me more than I can say."

The 69-year-old justice said he is looking forward to his retirement in New Hampshire, but would retain fond memories of "the finest moments in my life."

The court is now in recess until early September and awaiting the possible confirmation of appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Souter.

Nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, Souter announced May 1 that he would step down from the high court after 19 years.

Near the end of the court's public session, Chief Justice John Roberts read a letter from his benchmates to Souter, noting a "profound sense of loss" over his retirement.

"We deeply value the times we have shared in judicial service," said Roberts, who then briefly quoted poet Robert Frost. "We understand your desire to trade white marble for White Mountains [of New Hampshire], and return to your land 'of easy wind and downy flake.' "

Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor also signed the letter.

After Roberts spoke, Souter announced, "I too have a statement to read from the bench," in a deadpan voice that brought laughter to the courtroom.

The friendship of his colleagues "has held together despite the pull of the most passionate dissent," he said.

"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. ... ," Souter said.

"We have agreed or contend 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 friends."

His personal remarks brought wide smiles from the other justices, but no tears. The low-key, private Souter had wished for no elaborate ceremony or celebration, preferring the short, eloquent power of words to convey his appreciation.

Souter is expected to depart this week for his home in rural Weare, New Hampshire. He has no specific plans in retirement, but has indicated he may occasionally sit as a senior judge on federal appeals court cases, which the law allows for retired justices.


Filed under: David Souter • Supreme Court
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Farewell Souter, Hola Sotomayor.

    June 29, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  2. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Justice Souter, enjoy your retirement and thank you for your service!

    June 29, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  3. sms29s

    So long, buddy. Your service was commendable and I hope you enjoy a long happy retirement.

    June 29, 2009 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  4. Margaret, OH

    Well done, Justice Souter, well done.

    Cheers, Applause.......

    June 29, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  5. Flex

    Thanks for your opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, and Romer v. Evans!

    June 29, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  6. Frank Lee

    Enjoy a long and healthy retirement on your New Hampshire farm, sir.

    Thank you for a job well done.

    June 29, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  7. Danny E. Gonzalez

    There is a certain class that is attached to the members of the high court; Justice souter continues that tradition. the recognition that it is time for him to perhaps tend to a different chapter in his life is a very important and none the less sad moment for our nation. I wish him well. I do hope that more people are inspire to serve the nation.

    June 29, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  8. Jon

    Thanks for your service – and thank you for leaving when you felt it was time, not when you were on deaths doorstep. Other Justices may want to remember, you are appointed for life, but it doesn't mean you have to serve for life.

    Enjoy your retirement.

    June 29, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  9. Bill Sampson

    You turned out to be one of the good guys, Mr. Souter. Thanks.

    June 29, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  10. Willy Brown

    At least your replacement will have no inpact

    June 29, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  11. girlymen love the GOP

    Have a happy retirement and keep your John Deere working hard.

    June 29, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  12. Tony

    Souter was an enemy of equal protection. I'm glad to see him gone, but he's probably going to be replaced by a justice who hated liberty even more than he did.

    June 29, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  13. Abby

    May you enjoy a long and healthy retirements, sir. Thank you.

    June 29, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  14. Obama 2.0

    bye bye

    June 29, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  15. LacrosseMom

    Justice Souter, thank you for serving your country well. God bless you!

    June 29, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  16. dominican mama 4 Obama

    'Bye! Next!

    June 29, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  17. Victim

    I hope he writes. I hope he uses his exzceptional critical analysis skills to help shed light on the work the High Court does.
    Souter was the best thing to happen to the Court in decades.

    June 29, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  18. Darth Vadik, CA

    My hat's off to you Mr. Souter, you hung in there not letting Bush appoint another coorporate croony who believes that coorporations have more rights than individuals.

    May you have a happy, blessed and long enjoyable retirement.

    June 29, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  19. Dave

    Don't let the door hit ya.......

    June 29, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  20. Mississippi Mike

    Good riddance. He did his best to legislate from the bench and we'll be living with his poorly thought out opinions for the rest of our lives.

    June 29, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |