An emotional Supreme Court Justice David Souter bid a fond 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. Souter handles matters that come to the Supreme Court from those states. The 69-year-old justice announced last Friday that he will retire this summer after the court term ends and return to his beloved New Hampshire.
In a rare display of emotion, 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. "The 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 said 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 Tuesday.
President Barack Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that the administration won't announce the new Supreme Court appointee until at least next week.