Today was Justice David Souter's last day on the Supreme Court, and it probably wasn't exactly the kind of day he wanted to end on. The Court ended up ruling in favor of a group of white firemen who claimed that a city's promotion policy constituted reverse discrimination.
Souter dissented from the majority opinion, joining the group of three other justices that have made up the Court's liberal bloc for the past fifteen years: Justices Ginsburg, Stevens and Breyer.
While the outcome of the case wasn't what Souter had wanted, he had to have been touched by his colleagues' parting statements praising his "wisdom, civility and dedication." While the justices were sad to see Souter go, the letter, which Chief Justice Roberts read in Court, also said that "[w]e understand your desire to trade white marble for White Mountains," referencing Souter's oft-stated desire to return permanently to his beloved New Hampshire. It was no secret that Souter did not enjoy the Washington scene. He
left for New Hampshire immediately after each term, and tried to remain
out of the social circuit that pulls in so many other Washington
luminaries. He rented a modest apartment and avoided the limelight.
Souter did enjoy being on the Supreme Court. He once famously said
that being a Supreme Court justice was the best job in the worst city.
was often the enigma on the Court. Tending towards an ascetic
lifestyle, Souter carefully considered his government pension, even
though some prudent investments had made him one of the wealthiest
members of the Court. Every day, he ate an apple and a cup of yogurt
for lunch, even eating the meal off of the Court's fine china when the
justices would dine together.
He never married, despite the
attempts of Justices O'Connor and Ginsburg to set him up with eligible
Washington ladies. And despite his wealth and standing, he rented a
spartan apartment in Washington near a military installation.
he was widely regarded for his intellectual honesty and his stable
judicial temperament. He also had a good sense of humor, and was not
afraid to poke fun at himself.
There's a story, recounted in Jeffrey Toobin's wonderful book on the Supreme Court, The Nine,
about a couple who came up to speak to Justice Souter in a restaurant.
The couple knew he was on the Supreme Court, but mistook him for
Justice Breyer. Souter didn't correct them, and instead chatted
amiably with the couple for a few minutes, at which point the man asked
him: "What's the best part about being on the Supreme Court."
which Souter replied, after a few seconds' thought: "Well, I would have
to say it's been the honor of working with David Souter."
See Also: Letters on Justice Souter's retirement (SCOTUSblog)