Battle site changed Souter’s view

“This is where they fought the battle of Gettysburg. Fifty thousand men died right here on this field, fighting the same fight that we are still fighting among ourselves today . . . If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were.”

Those words were spoken by Denzel Washington, portraying T.C. Williams High School Coach Herman Boone in the film “Remember the Titans.”

Boone’s talk was aimed at ending the racial divisions among members of the high school football team. But this week, a Supreme Court justices said that a visit to the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania was a pivotal moment for him as a juror.

Justice David Souter yesterday said that earlier in his tenure as a justice, the Court was presented with a case that made him ask: “Why do I have to resolve that case?”

But he will never again complain about tough cases, he said – all because of a trip he took last year with his law clerks and secretaries to that battlefield.

“It seems a fair assessment that one of the pivots of American history was at that place, at that moment,” Souter said in an address at an annual conference of federal judges from Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “I could not ever again, under any circumstance, say it is unfair that I have to do this.”

Souter’s address was not all somber. He showed his funny side too.

Discussing a portrait of former president and Chief Justices William Taft that hangs at the Court, showing Taft looking much thinner than his actual corpulent frame, Souter said the image was “the greatest example of aesthetic weight loss in the history of American portraiture.”

Retelling a story about Justice Learned Hand, who once threw a paperweight at his law clerk, Souter quipped: “Fortunately, he was a poor pitcher,” and added that he has only raised his voice – never objects – at his own clerks. “They realize they are lucky, just like the judge they work for,” he said.

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