By Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
A Tribute to Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
December 1, 1987
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VOLUME 101 DECEMBER 1987 NUMBER 2
HARVARD LAW REVIEW
A TRIBUTE TO JUSTICE LEWIS F. POWELL, JR.
Sandra Day O'Connor*
Changes in the composition of the Supreme Court are both inevitable and inevitably significant. As the law and the nation are to some degree shaped by the Court, so the Court is shaped by the Justices who serve on it. It is fitting, on the occasion of Justice Lewis F. Powell's retirement, to reflect on the role of individual character in the work of the Court.
Justice Powell's decision to retire, which came as a surprise to his eight colleagues, provides a particularly apt moment for such reflection because of Justice Powell's extraordinary personal qualities. His departure from the Court is an important event for many different reasons, and I leave others to speculate about the effects on the publicly visible aspects of the Court's work. I wish to focus instead on the man himself and especially on why his leaving is so poignant for those of us who remain.
Few people join the Court without their fair share of outstanding personal accomplishments. With respect to how many of the Justices, however, could their colleagues say, years later, "His very presence among us, day to day and on the bench, was something each of us valued - indeed, treasured"? I can say that about Justice Powell, for I have known no one in my lifetime who is kinder or more courteous than he. If at times he was unhappy or frustrated with one of us, he never expressed a harsh thought or