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.