Justice Souter, in rare display of emotion, says goodbye to his judges in Philadelphia

Souter bids fond, emotional farewell to his judges

PHILADELPHIA — 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 decades.

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, N.J.

“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 the Constitution.

Souter thanked Scirica for not including the Constitution for this visit. “He may have assumed that it’s too late now,” Souter said.

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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Associated Press writers Larry Margasak and Ben Evans in Washington contributed to this report.

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