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Bar News - March 19, 2010

2010 Midyear Meeting: Justice Souter Describes a Journey of the Mind


Hon. David H. Souter speaks at Midyear Meeting luncheon.
Retired US Supreme Court Associate Justice David H. Souter, who was the featured speaker at the NH Bar Association’s Midyear Meeting lunch on Feb. 12, received a standing ovation at both the beginning and at the end of his speech. At the beginning, the applause welcomed him back to New Hampshire as one of its native sons; at the end, it saluted the remarkable story of how a man develops a unique legal mind, the kind of mind that puts a man on the bench of the US Supreme Court.

For Souter, three extraordinary judges influenced his thinking; "They were the kind of men that wake us up to ourselves," he said. "We can see ourselves in them." One of them, Lawrence Duncan, was a New Hampshire judge; it was Duncan’s opinions that Souter always read first when he got out of law school. "He made me the kind of judge I am," said Souter.

While in law school, Souter read the opinions of John Marshall Harlan and became an admirer. He also read Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and District Court judge and judicial philosopher, Learned Hand, the great champion of civil rights.

Souter’s response to Holmes was, "Yes, of course." He recognized in Holmes the American pragmatism that he had been familiar with since boyhood days in rural New Hampshire. Holmes said, "The life of the law is not in logic, but in experience," a philosophy Souter deeply believed in.

In Hand he also discovered a kindred spirit: "He was a distinctly common law judge, to the marrow," said Souter. "Hand said, ‘Decide the case.’ I learned from him that most questions are not about the meaning of the law, but how to do it."

Late in 1982, Lawrence Duncan died and Souter was asked to write a memorial to him for the spring 1983 Bar Journal. In praising Duncan, Souter compared him to Learned Hand. Years later, he discovered that words from this memorial article had helped win him influential support for his Supreme Court appointment.

This support came from Gary Guenther, a noted law professor at Stanford and biographer of Learned Hand. Guenther had been on the committee to read Souter’s opinions—and had also read the memorial to Duncan.

In it, Souter said that Lawrence Duncan was his kind of judge—and that he was very like Learned Hand. Guenther told the other members of the committee, "We have to have him."

David Souter’s journey had come full circle.

Scenes from 2010 Midyear Meeting

David Nixon, Jack Middleton and Kimon Zachos were presented with a shared award for Distinguished Service to the Public Award recognizing the value of their individual accomplishments, aided by an enduring friendship that nurtured their efforts. The three lawyers sat down with Bar News for an extended interview you will see (and hear) soon.

Keri Roman, John McGowan and Steven Whitley were among the Bar members who took advantage of special pricing for new lawyers to attend the Midyear Meeting.

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