The return of David Souter and the ‘Comeback Kid’
Late summer brought several interesting and memorable events from historic to intriguing to results of a local primary.
Of historic note, on Sept. 16, a portrait of the late and distinguished Chief Justice Frank Rowe Kenison, was unveiled at the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The portrait was a project of current Chief Justice John Broderick, who enlisted the help of many in the legal community to raise money to pay for the portrait to hang in the entryway of the Supreme Court building, which is named for Kenison.
Luminaries past and present from the bar and bench attended. For attorneys who have practiced law for thirty years or more, as I have, seeing many of the giants of the bar who were my age when I started and are still active was a treat. Such notable attorneys as George Hanna of Keene (father of Governor Lynch’s legal counsel Kate Hanna), retired Rockingham County Probate Judge William Treat, retired Supreme Court Justices William Batchelder and William Johnson, retired Superior Court judges, such as George Pappagianis and many more was like watching the history of New Hampshire law practice in one place.
The speaker was U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, a former New Hampshire Supreme Court justice. Souter speaks in public rarely. When he does so, he does so thoughtfully, eloquently and his remarks are worthy of note.
Careful to avoid the topics of the day, the only reference Souter made to current Supreme Court matters and the confirmation process surrounding Judge John Roberts was a reference to the strength of judges who do not come to the bench with “an agenda.”
Souter’s remarks focused on Justice Kenison and his 30-year career on the Supreme Court, where he built a reputation as one of the three or four top state court judges in the country. Souter also noted his close association and friendship with Judge Laurence Duncan, a colleague on the bench who himself was chief justice, later but who teamed with Kenison to lead a court of extraordinary scholarship and wisdom.
Souter also noted that the ceremony was held 35 years to the day that the Supreme Court building was dedicated and its keys turned over to Chief Justice Kenison by then-Gov. Walter Peterson.
For New Hampshire history and legal buffs, Sept. 16, 2005, was about as good as it gets, from the memories of Justices Kenison and Duncan to the wisdom of Justice Souter, a true scholar and conservative justice in that he does not seek to overturn with precedent for his own purposes and does not come with a hidden agenda in judging.
Events at the state Senate a couple of weeks ago were startling political drama. Senate President Thomas Eaton, long regarded by those who know him as one of the most affable and nicest individuals imaginable, somehow succeeded in getting himself into a political jam. Largely “inside the State House” intrigue, the issues involved his administration of the Senate, his use of appointment power to add and remove people from committees of conference, his disagreements over staff with Majority Leader Robert Clegg of Hudson and his treatment of several senators who opposed his election as President or otherwise opposed his administration.
All of these matters came to a head in late summer with majority of senate Democrats joining with sufficient Republicans to request a special session of the senate to deal with “leadership issues.” It became obvious that the majority of the senators would seek alternate leadership. In an emotional and touching speech, Eaton warned of the dangerous precedent being set and resigned as senate president.
In short order, Senator Ted Gatsas of Manchester, one of the exiled Republicans, was elected to replace Eaton. Later, Senator Clegg was named majority leader once again and Gatsas named his leadership team and pledged that he would work with members of the senate from both sides of the aisle.
A recent column of mine had the headline affixed to it, “Ted Gatsas: The Comeback Kid.” If he was the comeback kid when that column was written, he has now come further than all the way back! How he does leading the Senate in a bipartisan fashion will be interesting to watch, although his initial steps seemed encouraging to Concord observers.
A couple of interesting notes: with Gatsas’ election, both the House and Senate have Republican leaders elected with less than half of the members of their own party in support. Also with his election, the governor, speaker of the house and senate president are all alumni of the University of New Hampshire to which all three have close connections and strong devotion. Regardless of party, this is a fact which has been noted by all three and stranger things than common college allegiances have been known to put very different people on the same wavelength.
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.