PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Supreme Court Justice David Souter,
momentarily choked with emotion, bid an affectionate farewell
Tuesday to judges and lawyers he has worked with for nearly two
Souter spoke at an annual conference of judges and lawyers from Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He handles matters that come to the Supreme Court from those states. The 69-year-old justice
announced last Friday that he will retire when the court finishes
its work for the summer and return to his home in New Hampshire.
Momentarily dropping his New England reserve, the justice
appeared to choke up as he recalled asking his predecessor, William
Brennan, if he wanted to send a message to the same group when
Souter was preparing to attend his first conference in Teaneck,
"Just give them my love, David. Just give them my love,"
Souter remembered. "That goes for me, too."
He received sustained standing ovations before and after his
15-minute talk, and was introduced by Chief Judge Anthony J.
Scirica of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
as a "beloved member of the 3rd Circuit family."
Souter said he had not intended for the news of his retirement
to break before Tuesday's event. "I swear to you I was not the
leak," he said.
Still, he said, "It's impossible not to be doing a mental
reckoning of some sort."
He gave a lighthearted account of the first conference after he
joined the court in 1990, noting that he apparently was viewed with
some suspicion by the 3rd Circuit. Among the reading material he
was given when he arrived at that first conference was a copy of
Souter thanked Scirica for not including the Constitution for
this visit. "He may have assumed that it's too late now," Souter
Souter told the conference that members of the legal profession
should take satisfaction in doing "something worth doing" and
trying "to do it well."
He did not permit cameras or audio recordings at his speech.
In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama will
not be announcing his choice to replace Souter this week.
Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs ruled out that timeframe
when asked about published comments from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah,
who spoke to Obama on Monday and said he expected an announcement this week.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary
Committee, said he has discussed possible nominees with Obama but
would not name them. The Vermont Democrat said he wouldn't schedule the committee's confirmation hearings until a nominee was chosen, but he said he was certain that a new justice would be seated for the court's fall term.
Leahy said he has advised Obama, "Make sure you talk to key
Republicans, not just Democrats," including the Senate's top
leaders, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Mitch
McConnell of Kentucky.
On Tuesday, Obama made a brief courtesy call to Sen. Jeff
Sessions, R-Ala., now the top Republican on the Judiciary
Committee. Sessions' spokesman, Stephen Boyd, said the content of
their discussion would not be released.
Sessions, in a statement after he became the committee's ranking
Republican, said he would ensure "a rigorous and thorough
examination" of the nominee's qualifications.
Sessions also expressed tradition Republican themes on court
nominations, saying the nominee must be "a neutral umpire of the
law, calling the balls and strikes fairly while avoiding the
temptation to make policy or legislate from the bench based on
personal political views."
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