Justice Randy Holland of the Delaware Supreme Court. HANDOUT.
Justice Randy Holland of the Delaware Supreme Court. HANDOUT. ()

Justice Randy J. Holland, the longest-serving judge ever to sit on Delaware’s highest court, has announced that he will retire in March, capping a 30-year career of public service that reached far beyond the bench.

Holland, 70, became the youngest person to serve on the Supreme Court in 1986, when he was appointed by Gov. Michael Castle to fill the vacancy left by John J. McNeilly Jr. He was reappointed to a second 12-year term by Gov. Tom Carper; and in 2011, Gov. Jack Markell nominated Holland for an unprecedented third term on the court.

According to a press release issued by the Delaware judiciary, Holland has written more than 700 reported opinions and issued “several thousand” case-dispositive orders during his tenure on the bench. Over that same period, he has published two books on the Delaware Constitution and co-authored a law school casebook on state constitutional law from the perspective of all 50 states.

In a statement Thursday morning, Holland said the time had come to focus on other areas of interest.

“I just feel that after 30 years it is time to retire,” he said. “I’m looking forward to pursuing other opportunities, like teaching.”

His term was scheduled to end in March 2023.

A former partner in Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell’s Sussex County office, Holland joined the bench at the age of 39, with no judicial experience but all the credentials you would expect in a justice, those who know him said on Thursday.

Holland’s practice in Georgetown drew clients from all over the state and required him to argue in all four of Delaware’s courts, on subjects ranging from corporate and contract law to zoning and real estate transactions, said William B. Chandler, whom Holland hired in 1983 after a stint as legal counsel to Gov. Pete du Pont.

Chandler described Holland as one of his “greatest mentors,” and he credited Holland’s broad experience and wide client base as being decisive factors in his initial nomination.

“He literally had done everything you could do to prepare for that court,” said Chandler, a former Delaware Court of Chancery chancellor and current partner with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

“That reputation that he had already built up over a period of years was really what propelled him to the Supreme Court.”

Myron T. Steele, who served as chief justice of the Supreme Court from 2004 to 2013, said Holland had the “ideal background” for the job, but that he also possesses a keen sense of history and “institutional memory” when it comes to the court.

“We relied on him heavily,” Steele said.

Indeed, Holland has written, co-authored or edited nine books, and he has spent years teaching constitutional law and lecturing across the country and internationally. He has also published several law review articles, dealing primarily with judicial ethics and legal history.

Holland’s work has earned him numerous awards in the areas of professionalism, ethics and judicial excellence, as well as the former post of president of the American Inns of Court Foundation.

“He is the perfect personification of the Delaware way,” Steele said.

Holland’s work on the bench included his opinion in Unitrin v. American General and, later, his controversial opinion in the case Omnicare v. NCS Healthcare, where he wrote the majority opinion over the dissents of Steele and then-Chief Justice Norman Veasey. He has also spoken for the court in countless criminal cases, often delving into complex constitutional issues, the experts said.

But more than anything, Holland’s tenure will be marked by the breadth of his intellect and his deep respect for legal institutions and their history, said Lawrence Hamermesh, a professor at Widener University Delaware Law School.

“If I wanted to focus on his legacy, I think it’d be that more than any opinion I could name,” Hamermesh said.

In a statement, Gov. John Carney thanked Holland for his decades of service to Delaware and its judiciary.

“Justice Holland has been a model jurist and a steady source of wisdom on Delaware’s Supreme Court for more than 30 years. His thoughtfulness and deep knowledge of Delaware history and the Delaware Constitution will be missed,” he said.

Carney is expected to nominate Holland’s successor in the coming months, after the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission vets the applicant pool and delivers its recommendations for the post. Given the court’s current makeup, the candidate is expected, like Holland, to be a Republican from Sussex County.

There was no word Thursday on who Holland’s successor might be.