Humphrey told the Senate Judiciary...


September 15, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

SENATOR GORDON Humphrey told the Senate Judiciary Committee

that he was sick and tired of hearing people say David Souter would be the first Supreme Court justice from New Hampshire in 117 years. There was a New Hampshireman on the court as recently as 44 years ago, he said.

Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone was born in Chesterfield, N.H., in 1872, all right, but, unlike David Souter, he left the state to make a name for himself. He practiced law for the celebrated New York Wall Street law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. His fellow New Englander, President Calvin Coolidge, tapped him for attorney general, then associate justice of the high court.

Before Stone, the last New Hampshireman on the court was Salmon P. Chase, a Lincoln appointee, who served from 1864-1873. Like Stone, Chase didn't hang around New Hampshire to make his fame and fortune. He emigrated to Ohio, where he was a senator and governor. He was secretary of the Treasury when Abe put him on the court.

The Souter hearings have been terrific so far. One of the highlights of the Judiciary Committee was Wisconsin Sen. Herbert Kohl's advice to David Souter: "Don't give us prepared answers." The senator read this from a prepared text, along with the rest of his statement. All senators read from prepared statements. Sen. Paul Simon said it was the first time he had ever done so. To prove that he was still an old fashioned senator, he pointed out that it was written on a manual typewriter.

Sen. Humphrey also defended his state for its small townishness. He said he resented suggestions that because David Souter was from Weare, N.H., he was not sophisticated. He said Weare was quite metropolitan and cosmopolitan, including in the whole Weare, Weare Village, South Weare, East Weare, West Weare and North Weare. He said the last's sign read "No. Weare," often pronounced "nowhere." I think that may have been a little Yankee humor. My Rand McNally lists no North Weare.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania usually comes across as the most thoughtful senator at these Judiciary hearings on nominees. He struck me as a little cynical this time. He mused that certain recent nominees had testified one way but voted another once on the court.

Did they perjure themselves? Maybe, but probably not. They probably just changed their minds. It happens. Take Harlan Fiske Stone. He was nominated by Coolidge because he was such a conservative and friend of Wall Street. Sixteen years later Franklin D. Roosevelt elevated him to chief justice because he had become such an outstanding liberal and friend of the New Deal.

Stone is, I think, the only justice ever to die with his boots on. In 1946 he was reading a dissent from the bench when he turned pale and his voice faltered. Two justices quickly assisted him out of the courtroom. It was announced that he had had "a small attack of indigestion." Actually he'd had a stroke, and he died less than four hours later.

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