Six weeks after retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice David Souter's new life is taking shape -- a New Hampshire life that will keep him away from Washington as much as humanly possible.
Unlike many retired justices who keep chambers at the Supreme Court or at the nearby Thurgood Marshall judicial building, Souter will not have an office in Washington, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg confirms. The law clerk and secretary to which he is entitled as a retired justice will operate out of the Court. But Souter himself is already using an office at the federal courthouse in Concord, N.H., where he's had summer chambers since he joined the Supreme Court in 1990. The difference now is that he won't be returning to Washington when the Court's recess is over.
"It's like any other summer, except longer," said James Starr, longtime clerk of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire. "It's very nice to have him here."
It is no surprise that Souter, who turns 70 in September, is arranging his life to stay away from Washington. He once famously said that, as a justice, he had the world's best job in the world's worst city.
Souter will venture outside the Granite State, but rarely. The Court has also confirmed that Souter plans to sit by designation in cases at the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will force him to cross the border into Massachusetts to reach its courthouse in Boston. No dates for his sittings have been set.
"He likes New Hampshire," said Starr, who should know. Souter hired him as a law clerk when he was a judge on the New Hampshire Superior Court in 1978. Starr has been the clerk at the federal courthouse for 25 years. "He knows all the judges here," said Starr. Three district court judges, one senior judge, a magistrate and a 1st Circuit judge have chambers in the modern Warren Rudman courthouse. None of the sitting district court judges returned phone calls seeking comment about Souter. "They respect his privacy," said Starr.
But other New Hampshire lawyers cheered his return. "My friend is home," said Tom Rath, who succeeded Souter as New Hampshire's attorney general, on a recent New Hampshire news program. Rath is founder of Rath, Young and Pignatelli in Concord. Another friend, Wilbur Glahn III of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton in Manchester, N.H., said on the show that he is looking forward to "being able to have [Souter] over for dinner" in seasons other than summer.
Souter's popularity in New Hampshire has only risen since he announced his retirement, in part because he so visibly gave up Washington for New Hampshire.
"He's an icon here, very highly regarded," said Mary Susan Leahy, another Souter friend at the McLane Graf law firm. "I'm really happy he is returning here healthy and wise, and able to control his own schedule."
Leahy is working with Souter on one of the projects that will occupy the former justice in coming months. She is spearheading an ambitious effort to revamp and invigorate civics education in New Hampshire, launched by the New Hampshire Supreme Court Society. "He's a fabulous ally to have."
Souter was part of a "think tank" organized by the society that studied the state of civics education in New Hampshire last year, she said. Souter has become deeply committed to the project, Leahy added, partly at the urging of his close friend, retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The emphasis will be on teaching civics in the earlier grades and on increasing its importance in the curriculum after years of being neglected partly because of the No Child Left Behind program, which she said emphasizes testing on other subjects.
Souter's other main project will be moving into his new house. He is leaving his fabled family farmhouse in Weare for a bigger and more modern abode in nearby Hopkinton, telling neighbors he needed to move to bigger quarters that would house his extensive library. The new house, complete with a home gym, cost him $510,000, according to local records; it's unclear whether he is selling the Weare property.
Footnote: Souter's clerk is former Chicago-based Jenner & Block associate Thomas Pulham. With the notoriously low-tech Souter in New Hampshire, and Pulham and Souter's secretary in Washington, how will Souter stay in touch? Court officials declined to say, but some who know Souter say his Luddite reputation has been exaggerated. He is said to be learning and coping well with new technology.