MAY 26, 2005
CHIEF JUSTICE TAYLOR: Good morning. I’d like to welcome all of you to this special session of the Supreme Court in which we will dedicate the portrait of the late Justice THEODORE SOURIS. In particular the Court welcomes his wife, Karla Scherer, and we also welcome Christopher Souris, Stephen Souris, Susan Souris Wilson, Allison Scherer Thomas, their spouses, and their children. In a moment we will hear from Wallace Riley, president of the Supreme Court Historical Society, who will serve as our Master of Ceremonies for this event, and we will have the privilege of listening to Ms. Scherer and to Richard Reed’s reminiscences of Justice SOURIS.
The French writer, Honoré de Balzac said that adversity tempers the human heart to discover its real worth. Those words could easily have been written about Justice SOURIS, who at age ten lost his five-year-old sister, his only sibling, and then at age fourteen suffered the loss of his father. As Justice SOURIS was later to recall to court historian Roger Lane, the mother and son left behind were devastated. In addition to the terrible sorrow of losing a husband and father, there was great financial strain. Justice SOURIS told Roger Lane that shortly before his death, his father had invested everything he owned in the new business. All of that was lost upon his father’s death. There was no extended family to offer support. Thanks to the kindness of a family friend who was a physician, his mother found work, but young THEODORE SOURIS quickly became self-supporting.
Entering the University of Michigan at age seventeen, he worked hard at a variety of jobs ranging from moving freight from the railroad station in Ann Arbor to waiting tables. He joined the Air Force and was called to active duty in January 1944 with a year and a half of college credits to that point. Anxious to complete his education when he returned to the University of Michigan in November 1945, he finished his undergraduate work and law school on an accelerated basis, getting his law degree in August of 1949 while still working a variety of jobs to support himself.
We who now look back on his life are struck by how that trajectory continued. He was a very young and eager lawyer involved in the highest levels of the state Democratic Party and then a young and extremely hard-working judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court to which he was appointed in an effort to resolve that court’s backlog. He became a Michigan Supreme Court justice at age thirty-three, the youngest in this Court’s history and the first of Greek descent.
Almost immediately he revitalized the Court’s work habits by insisting on getting briefs and records in all the cases, not just those that would be assigned to him for opinions, as was the custom at the time. Before long, all the other justices followed suit but the Court’s improved work habits were not his only contribution. Indeed, far from it, Justice SOURIS felt strongly that the Court had in the past clung to an illusion of infallibility rigidly adhering to its prior decisions in the name of stare decisis without considering whether it was in fact perpetuating an error. In that regard, he often cited Parker v Port Huron Hospital, in which Justice SOURIS joined the majority in overruling the Supreme Court’s very longstanding rule that a charity was immune from suit for the negligence of its employees or agents. Discussing the case later with historian Lane, he said, “Yes, I thought with absolute conviction that if the Court concluded that its prior judgments were wrong in the development of the common law—you know, I emphasized the importance of the common law to a state Supreme Court because that’s the one area of the law in which the Court legitimately can be creative. It is the writer of the law. It is the origin of the law. It has the obligation to declare the law and to modify those declarations of law when it is persuaded that it has been wrong in the past.” For that reason, he was sometimes accused of being a radical justice. He resented that label—indeed he felt that he took a conservative view of his role as a justice. As he said to Roger Lane, “That seems to be a popular misconception of my attitudes as a justice of the Court. I wasn’t a radical member of the Court. I was one of the most conservative members of the Court in the sense that I insisted that the Court go back to first principles whenever we had a controversy. For example, involving statutory interpretation. What was our function? Our function was to determine what the Legislature intended by the language it used. When we started substituting our own notions of what the Legislature intended, then we were overstepping our bounds and I was frequently critical of the Court for doing that.”
When Justice SOURIS left the Court in 1968 it was to resume private practice with the same work ethic and sheer intellectual joy that characterized his life from high school on. I found a particularly illuminating passage from his interview with Mr. Lane. He is speaking of how he became active in politics following the war. “I think it was a deeply felt need to participate in the business of government. Remember we had just gone through a terrible war. We had returned to campus with idealistic views of our own role in society. The opportunities were there and there was a feeling of participation in a great activity—a very important thing at that time, and it was very exciting.” That excitement animated a long, imminently successful, and profoundly influential career. Perhaps, as Balzac said, the early and terrible adversity he suffered helped make THEODORE SOURIS the great man we honor today. Whatever influences may have combined to produce THEODORE SOURIS, this Court is richer for his presence on our bench. I now turn over the proceedings to our Master of Ceremonies, Wallace Riley who will introduce the speakers. Mr. Riley.
MR. RILEY: Good morning. Thank you Mr. Chief Justice. On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society we welcome all the participants to today’s special session to unveil and dedicate the portrait of Justice THEODORE SOURIS. As many of you already know, the tradition of dedicating official court portraits of former justices is one that has carried on for well over one hundred years. The Court’s collection of historical portraits will number eighty-five after today. Each of the portraits hangs in one of the Court’s office buildings and offers a glimpse into the rich history and heritage of the Michigan Supreme Court. The Historical Society is pleased to participate in today’s presentation ceremony and, without further ado, to unveil the portrait of the Court’s 77th justice are the justice’s grandchildren and they are listed in your program and I’d like to introduce them to you now and call upon them to come up to the portrait. Aleah Stewart-Souris, Damon Stewart-Souris, Elena Souris, Alexander Souris, Keller Wilson, Claire Wilson and Erin Wilson. Do your duty.
[Portrait is unveiled.]
While we’re taking these pictures I would like to comment on the fact that there is a write-up in the program about the artist, Susanne Hay, and it’s very, very interesting. It gives her background and tells about what her skills and talents were in constructing and doing this portrait. So you might want to read about that. I think you guys are done. Thanks. Good job.
Justice SOURIS was on the Court, as you know, for a full eight-year term and he had several clerks. One of them will speak to you today but there are others that I’d like to mention and, if any of those are present, I wish they would stand so you can identify them. Lloyd Fell, I know he’s here. George Ward. Frank Knox. Sheldon Otis. Some of these are familiar names, I know. Dominic Carnivelli, who if he isn’t here is probably at Tiger Stadium. And James Robinson.
Our first speaker today is Mr. Richard Reed. Mr. Reed earned his law degree from Detroit College of Law in ’61. He became Justice SOURIS’s second law clerk, serving during portions of 1961 and 1962. Entering the private practice of law in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1962, Mr. Reed maintained contact with THEODORE SOURIS during his lifetime and served with him as a member of the Scope and Correlation Committee of the State Bar of Michigan. While serving on the Attorney Grievance Commission, Mr. Reed was one of those responsible for alerting the Supreme Court to the problems that were existing on the commission, which led to the Michigan Supreme Court appointing former Justice Souris as special counsel to conduct investigations of the Attorney Grievance Commission. Mr. Reed is a fellow of the State Bar of Michigan, and most important to us, he is a member of the Board of Directors of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. Mr. Reed.
MR. REED: Thank you, Mr. Riley. Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices, distinguished citizens and particularly distinguished grandchildren, on behalf of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society let me express our sincere appreciation for what you have done today. You probably don’t know the great anxiety which has attended board meetings in the past over when this portrait will be available for dedication. You have caused a certain calm and contentment in the society by your actions today.
A brief word about the fact that a mere clerk is addressing the Court on such an auspicious occasion. I have attended several portrait presentations and read the transcript of several others and I can identify no occasion in which a mere clerk has been asked to speak. It’s a rather bold move if one thinks about it because those with whom we work closely and daily are in the best position to know us quite fully and to tell it like it was without the base alloy of varnish. So it is, however, in keeping with Justice SOURIS’s temperament and view of life that it should be told as it is without varnish. But everyone in this room probably for a short period, and many people perhaps or some people perhaps for a long period, will regard this portrait as unusual. It has none of the trappings of office, and the judge is obviously in good humor. But it conveys the essence and soul of the man better than any portrait of him that I have observed.
He was—notwithstanding his genius, capacity for tremendous work, and brilliance in writing—basically a very decent, warm, loving human being. That side of him is not too frequently observed by persons who discuss his propensity to tell it like it is, irrespective of the listener. Let me give you a personal reference, if you’ll excuse it, that I think typifies something about the man. He discovered shortly after I began working for him that his law clerk had a one hour ride each way back and forth from home to the Detroit College of Law where his office was located. The school was very generous in donating two offices, one for him and one for his secretary who was his lifelong secretary and his clerks. And after about two weeks he said, “You have this very long ride and we don’t live that far apart. Why don’t I pick you up in the morning and bring you home at night.” Now here is a high-powered lawyer, member of the Supreme Court, extremely busy—he wrote more than 350 opinions during his 8 ½ years on the bench, in demand as a speaker, and he wrote prolifically—but he took time to pick up his law clerk to save him the one-hour bus ride each way to work. It was that empathy for everyone that was really the essence of his life.
I got to meet his family. Christopher, who is here, and Stephen, who was at that time very young, and Stephen called me Mr. Weed, to which the judge would break out in laughter. And after about the second occasion, I really saw no great humor in the gross mispronunciation of my name but Justice Souris, as with many great minds and great men, was a great teacher. And he taught not directly, but indirectly and by example. And the lesson which he was conveying to me at the time and which I understood later was never be afraid to laugh at yourself. He would relate stories of everyday foibles with as much relish as the accomplishments. He was, as the Chief Justice has indicated, a very successful trial lawyer. He was asked by the Governor to take a seat on the Wayne County bench for one year because there was a large field of candidates running for the position of Judge Moynihan, who had died shortly before retirement, and the Governor did not want to make the hard choice and so he said would you go and be a circuit judge for one year and help clean up the docket. And he did that. The docket was a great mess at that time. He was known for having two jury trials simultaneously. While the first jury was deliberating, the second jury was being selected. And he was very effective.
He wanted to return to private practice and, as a matter of fact, the firm’s announcements were printed and they were being mailed when he received a call from Governor Williams to meet him. And the Governor said to him, “I’m going to appoint you, if you will accept, to a vacancy on the Supreme Court.” This occurred shortly before New Year’s Day in 1959. The judge protested. He said, “I’m too young.” And the Governor responded something to the effect, “You’ll get over it.”
He agreed to accept the appointment and, after it was announced in the paper and shortly before the first of the year, he called the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice DETHMERS, and he said, “Please send me the briefs and the records from the cases that are up for argument for the first few weeks in January 1960.” And the Chief Justice responded, “You mean the records and briefs in your case that will be assigned to you?” And he said, “No, I want all of the records and briefs of all of the cases that are going to be argued in the next two weeks of January.” And the Chief Justice said, “Well, we don’t do that. We only send a copy of the briefs and records to the judge to whom the opinion is assigned for writing.” Now, you will recall, those of you and us who practiced at that time we were required to file nine copies of a printed brief and nine copies of the record on appeal. Frequently, with some rare exceptions, only one copy ever left the clerk’s office except, after the case was over, one would be sent to the law library. The others languished until space requirements mandated they be discarded. Justice SOURIS said, “No, I want all of the briefs,” and all of the records and the first week’s briefs and records were forwarded to him. He read them over the New Year’s holiday and he continued to receive them. And soon other justices were asking for them. They knew he had the briefs and records, he seemed to be up on every case, even those that were not assigned to him, and some very great legal minds—Justice EDWARDS, Justice SMITH, Justice BLACK, Justice KAVANAGH and others—they all had great legal minds but they began to ask—except Justice CARR, he was true to tradition to the end—they began to ask for the briefs and records.
The same was true of window matters. Now I don’t know what they are called today but in 1962 a window matter was an application for leave to appeal or a motion and the reason they were called window matters is that the Court was in the Capitol and the Capitol has very thick walls and the windows have very wide ledges, and, as motions and applications would come in, the clerk would lay them on the window. They were assigned, and by rotation, to the judges. Now at this time there was no Court of Appeals, there was only the Supreme Court, eight justices and eight clerks. Seven. Justice CARR, I think, was the justice who didn’t always have a clerk. He resided just a few blocks from the courthouse and apparently considered the ability for quiet reflection on the walks to and from office a suitable substitute, at least agreeable to him. So there were eight justices and seven or eight clerks, and these were assigned in rotation and, again, although nine copies of a complete filed legal size, but typed, application with the appropriate portions of the record would reach the clerk’s office, only one generally ever left and that was to the judge to whom it was assigned. And in those days the report on the window matter, that is yes we should grant leave or no we shouldn’t, or yes we should grant rehearing, was delivered orally to the Court by the judge to whom it was assigned. THEODORE SOURIS, age thirty-three, new to the bench, said, “I want all of the window matter applications and I want to study them.” And pretty soon he and Justice EDWARDS, and Justice TALBOT SMITH, and Justice BLACK, and Justice KAVANAGH had agreed that they would all review the window matters and that they would write a written report and they would share that report in advance of conference.
Now there is one other incident that occurred when this thirty-three-year-old, brilliant, young lawyer became a Supreme Court justice. He arrived in Lansing in January just before the 5th, the first day of argument, and he was assigned a desk in a room with Justice BLACK. One room and two desks. Space was at a premium then. And Justice BLACK said, “Tomorrow we have a case on the docket, it’s Stoliker v State Board of Canvassers, and I’ve written this opinion”—it was more than fifty pages, greatly exceeded today’s permissible brief limit, and he said, “I would like you to review this opinion and see if you can sign on to it tomorrow morning.” And Justice SOURIS said, “I can’t. I was a member of the State Board of Canvassers. As a matter of fact, I recently served as its chairman and I cannot participate in this decision.” Justice BLACK responded, “Oh, yes you can, don’t let that worry you. It’s a great opinion.” And he went home that night and he came back the next morning and before he was sworn in he said to Justice BLACK, “I considered what you said to me and I can’t.” As a matter of fact, Justice SOURIS was so particular about never conveying even a hint of undue influence that he stayed at the Kellogg Center when he was in Lansing for court sessions so that he would not encounter litigants, litigants’ attorneys, and lobbyists and others in downtown Lansing when he was hearing cases. So a sense of the bench, his first case, the crier, I think it was Clyde Sprague, called the first case, Stoliker v State Board of Canvassers. Justice SOURIS got up and went into chambers. He would not even give the appearance of participating in any way, even to the extent of passively listening to the arguments. And when, I think, Clyde Sprague came in and said the argument is over, he came back, took his seat on the bench, Justice EDWARDS leaned over to him and said, “Did you hear what happened?” And he could sense that there was some tension in the courtroom, some feeling of excitement. Justice SOURIS said no, and before Justice EDWARDS could explain it to him, the next case was called. And then during recess he learned that Justice BLACK, as soon as oral arguments were concluded in that case, announced that he had filed his opinion with the court clerk in sufficient copies so that one would be available for each member of the press. Justice SOURIS was flabbergasted. He thought it was an affront to the justices, he thought it was an affront to the Court, because obviously the opinion had been written before the oral argument and had been written without consultation with other members of the Court. He was convinced that it would be dealt with. The conference of the justices concluded that day and Justice BLACK’s opinion and its filing with the clerk was never mentioned. He thought well, tomorrow we’ll take care of it. The second day, at the conclusion of conference, Justice BLACK’s opinion had not been mentioned. They came back for the third day of argument and the third day of conference and at the conclusion, when he was convinced that no one was going to do anything, Justice SOURIS said, “Excuse me, I have a motion. I move that Justice BLACK’s opinion that has been filed with the clerk be stricken from the court records.” That motion carried 5-3.
Now understand the significance of your grandfather’s position. He’s thirty-three years old, he’s in his first case and first series of cases as a Supreme Court justice. He is in his first weeks as a Supreme Court justice and he institutes what amounts to a revolution in the Court. Because if one will read the opinions of the Court from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, you will find very few dissents because the Michigan Court at that time did not function as a true collegiate court. It functioned for a lot of years, for decades, as a court of eight individual justices writing opinions with whom other justices concurred unless it was an unusual case that struck them and they asked to see the records and briefs. That is not an insignificant change. That is a sea change. Justice SOURIS, in a very short period of time after assuming the bench, was able, by example to convince the Court to become a true collegiate appellate court. The litigants and the citizens of the state received a significant benefit and it is not really given the credence and publicity which it deserves.
Now Justice SOURIS spoke here, not here but in the other chambers, on three different occasions of the portrait presentation of TALBOT SMITH, GEORGE EDWARDS, and EUGENE BLACK. And at GEORGE EDWARD’s presentation, he referred to Justice EDWARDS as one of Plato’s army of judges and he quoted Plato’s admonition that a judge should not be young and his guide should be knowledge and not experience. THEODORE SOURIS proved that Plato was only half right, or perhaps that G. Mennen Williams was wiser than Plato.
Justice SOURIS was an advocate for the jury system, a real advocate for the jury system. He proposed that juries be impounded to make findings of fact in certain equity cases under certain limited circumstances. When thinking about my remarks today and thinking about Justice SOURIS’s attitude toward juries, I was put in mind of something that was written by Richard Feynman, also I think in the 1960s. Professor Feynman was regarded as one of the world’s greatest mathematical geniuses and theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner. He wrote—actually it was in a letter supporting the application for tenure of the first woman professor at Cal Tech to be considered for tenure. He wrote something to this effect, “In physics, rarely is it the case that the truth is not surrounded by doubt. So much so should it be in the humanities where in order to be truth it must be surrounded by doubt.” Justice SOURIS had the mind to grasp that profound concept, although I don’t know if he ever read it. He knew that in law, under the American system of jurisprudence at least, truth is not some reference point on a cosmic scale. In law under the American system of jurisprudence, truth is best approximated by the careful consideration of the available evidence by a qualified assemblage of ordinary citizens. He deplored the reduction of the number of jurors from twelve to six; he deplored the idea that a verdict could be less than unanimous.
He wrote many cases, one of the most important that he wrote was a concurring opinion in the legislative apportionment decision Scholle v Secretary of State. He wrote other important decisions and made a great contribution to the Court in addition to the quiet revolution which he engineered when he began. And he resigned from the Court, he resigned before his term was up. Now there is a lot of folklore as to why he resigned and I have heard various versions of it from persons on the Board of Directors of the Historical Society whose judgment I otherwise regard and some of the meanest or less charitable is that he thought he might lose the election and didn’t want his opponent to win. Before there is anymore currency added to that speculation, and I think Karla will address it more in detail, let me give you my take on it from having spent a great deal of time, and as much as possible, and I picked his brain as often as I could, and I asked interminable questions. As a matter of fact, at one point our car that we traveled in was a stripped down Ford with rubber mats and no radio. He began carrying a portable battery-operated radio mounted on the dashboard. I’m sure it was to shut me up on occasion. And he was a member of the Court when there were only eight justices and seven or eight clerks. No commissioners. The first commissioner didn’t come on board until 1965, and he knew that the Court was going to change and it was going to give up the very last vestiges of a territorial court. It was going to become a true appellate court. It was going to select the cases that it wanted to hear that were of significance to the jurisprudence of the state. And he knew that when the Court was cast purely in that role, that the opportunity for a split court, 4-4, or in some cases 3-3, would be devastating, devastating to the law. There was a case in which he participated shortly before he retired, where the Court split evenly. The issue was whether a mandamus should issue and poor Don Winters, the court clerk, had to resolve that issue. He didn’t know whether to issue the mandamus because an equal number of justices supported it, or refuse it because an equal number opposed it. And Justice SOURIS knew that that condition, a 4-4 split, would be detrimental to the Court, the jurisprudence of the state, and he wanted the Court to become modern as soon as possible. And he knew that by his resignation that problem would be fixed, and it was so typical of this warm, generous human being that he would sacrifice in order to establish what he thought was an important principle. I have to confess he also knew he could make a handsome living practicing law, which he succeeded to do. And his clients numbered some of the major corporations in the United States, and he was sought after for some of the most difficult problems, including disputes between upper echelons of management and other upper echelons of management in cases where it was thought that some official had done something detrimental to the interests of the corporation or perhaps even unethical. He was called in on the most difficult, knotty problems and he resolved them just as was referenced before, the issues with the Grievance Commission. He was an outstanding, wonderful, brilliant genius and he has deserved the right to laugh with us. We loved him.
MR. RILEY: Thank you very much, Dick. You can see what a great addition to the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society it is to have Mr. Reed on our board. He is literally a fountain of information about history. We’re going to have to reserve to another time Don Leonard’s rebuttal on reducing the Court from eight to seven justices. Today is not the day to do it, but thank you, Dick, for that marvelous presentation and review of all the delightful things about Judge SOURIS. He truly was a great man and a great justice.
Now I would like to introduce to you Mrs. Karla Scherer, Justice SOURIS’s wife for nearly ten years from September of ’92 until his death in June of 2002. Ms. Scherer funded and founded the Karla Scherer Foundation in 1989. Its purpose is to provide scholarships for women wishing to obtain undergraduate or graduate degrees in economics or finance and she currently serves as Chairperson of the Karla Scherer Foundation. Ms. Scherer is a frequent speaker on corporate governance matters in her own right and on problems confronting women in management. Karla.
KARLA SCHERER: Thank you, Mr. President. Honored justices of the Michigan Supreme Court, family and friends of Justice SOURIS, I want to extend my warmest appreciation for your participation this morning.
You should all know, as does certainly Wally Riley how difficult it was to get Ted to agree to having his portrait painted. Wally’s entreaties predated 1997, the date the portrait was begun in Paris by the young German painter, Susanne Hay. Following Ted’s resignation from the Court in 1968 until his death in 2002, he practiced law and under no circumstances did he want his portrait to hang in the Michigan Supreme Court during that time, feeling quite correctly that should he be arguing a case before the Court, it could perhaps give him an unfair advantage. Wally concurred, and once Ted made the decision to proceed, he was also quite definite that the portrait not display the usual accoutrements of judicial power—the black robes, the gavel, the law books. Elegant and reserved, admired for his intelligence, he nonetheless possessed warm humor, a wonderful deep laugh, and extraordinary sensitivity for the voiceless, the powerless among us. And so he told Susanne that he wanted to be painted relaxed and smiling, in a business suit standing behind his office desk chair with the vivid Greek blue background to reflect his heritage as a first generation Greek-American. In short, he wanted the portrait to reflect the happiness that he felt at the time in his life.
Ted and I made several trips to Paris for his sittings and those memories for me are tied up in this portrait—climbing the stairs to Susanne’s 8th floor atelier on the Rue Affre, Ted holding her newborn son, Gaspard, while she worked on details. Susanne was initially reluctant to take the commission. She was classically trained at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts and preferred greater artistic freedom than portraiture generally allows. However, over the years, Ted and I had collected several oils and drawings, as had our daughter Allison, so she ultimately agreed.
He firmly insisted that rather than raising money for its commission, he pay for this unconventional and very personal portrait himself. In his final letter to me and to the children written one month before he died, Ted in his usual cryptic fashion requested a presentation “without the usual elaborate ceremony customary on such occasions. If you can sneak it through the back door of the Court, so much the better.”
I must tell you that it is with sadness and some reluctance that I part with this portrait today. Ted bequeathed me a life interest in it and it has hung in our home and most recently in my office since its completion. However, Ted has eight grandchildren and I felt that they should have as full an understanding of their grandfather and his contribution as can be conveyed by an event such as today’s dedication.
Who was this man whose likeness we are celebrating? His formative years were certainly not easy ones. His only sibling, a younger sister, died when he was ten years old. His father died when he was fourteen, quite suddenly leaving Ted and his mother in financially perilous circumstances. He worked as many jobs as he could in high school—two paper routes a day, in the produce department of the local grocery store (they still remember him there). He was admitted to the University of Michigan at age seventeen with two very modest scholarships. In Ann Arbor it was once again an exhausting schedule balancing academics and work to support himself, work that included loading railroad freight cars (this was a man who weighed 125 pounds at that time), waiting tables at a sorority house for meals, running blueprints for a professor in the engineering school.
After a year and a half, he was called to active duty in the Army Air Force where he was assigned to the Air Cadet Program, a program for pilots, navigators, and bombardiers. The Air Force had selected what it deemed to be the cream of the crop of available talent, moving them around the country for their training in and out of the classroom. Ted had the opportunity during this time to work during his free time at the Greenville, Mississippi base Courts and Boards office. And it was here that he came face to face with some of the uglier aspects of race relations in the south at that time. A black airman, home on leave from his base in Alaska, was arrested and jailed for months by the sheriff of Greenville, without the Air Force being notified. They simply assumed that he was AWOL. Ted and the young lieutenant in charge managed to free this man, a serviceman they had never before met, at great risk to their personal safety. Both men were transferred away from the base soon thereafter, but the official stated reason had nothing to do with what they had done for this man. It was an experience he never forgot and it had a powerful influence on him as both a lawyer and a judge.
In late 1945 he was released from the service and returned to the University of Michigan where, as Justice TAYLOR has told you, he completed what normally would have been a six-years of law school, in 5 ¼ years. With money still tight, he went to school year round without a break. It was in Ann Arbor that he met Mennen Williams while studying in the basement of the law library late one night. Mennen had come down to use the men’s room. This chance meeting was the beginning of a lifelong friendship and a deep mutual respect that ultimately led to Ted’s appointment to the Supreme Court by then Governor Williams more than a decade later.
I’d like to speak briefly about those court years, about some of the personal and philosophical highlights for Ted. In 1960 he was a judge on the Wayne County Circuit Court when Justice JOHN VOELKER a/k/a Robert Traver, author of the best seller Anatomy of a Murder, resigned and returned to his home in the U.P to continue writing. Unfortunately, Mr. Traver did not come up with another best seller. When Governor Williams offered him the appointment to the Supreme Court, Ted was as surprised as everyone else. Only thirty-three years old, he would be the first American of Greek heritage to hold this position on any state Supreme Court. When he arrived in Lansing, he found a Court that had been criticized by the noted American jurist and Dean of the Harvard Law School, Roscoe Pound, as “having a bad eminence.” Michigan Supreme Court decisions, as Dick has referred to, had been one-man—yes they were all men on the Court at that time—had been one-man decisions. In other words, the workload of the Court was divided among the justices and each justice was assigned on those cases in advance of oral argument. Until 1955 there were very few dissents and even fewer concurrences. According to Ted, everyone signed each other’s opinions without bothering to review the records in those opinions. Justice TALBOT SMITH and later Ted, when he joined the Court, began to question this practice. He was frequently referred to as belonging to the so-called liberal wing of the Court along with Justices KAVANAGH, SMITH, BLACK, and EDWARDS. Ted did not consider himself a radical member of the Court. Indeed, he believed that he was one of the most conservative. He insisted that the Court go back to first principles whenever they had a controversy involving statutory interpretation. Listen to his words on the subject. “What was our function? Our function was to determine what the Legislature intended by the language it used. When we started substituting our own notions of what the Legislature intended, then we were overstepping our bounds, and I was frequently critical of the Court for doing that.”
In no sense, however, did Ted view the law as static. When I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I wrote a paper on the famous MacPherson v Buick case, a liability case heard in the New York Court of Appeals in 1916 before Judge Benjamin Cardozo. I assiduously avoided all discussion with Ted about this project. In fact, I didn’t even know of his admiration for Judge Cardozo. What Judge Cardozo did in that case was to reconcile existing legal principles in a new way, citing, case by case, previous decisions that had supported an interpretation that was consistent with modern technology—in this instance, the automobile. In the area of common law, Ted felt it was incumbent on the Court to modify or change its prior judgments if underlying social facts had changed. He felt that was the one area in which the Court could legitimately be creative and it was undoubtedly this belief that inflamed his critics, giving rise to charges of radicalism. He told Roger Lane in a 1990 interview and I quote, “When we dealt with the common law I felt that our role was much less restricted than it was when we were simply interpreting statutory law. When we were applying common law, we were in the arena of judge-made law and we had the obligation, in other words the power, to change that law when we were convinced that injustice was being done by perpetuation of the rule the court itself had announced earlier in time.”
Ted resigned from the Court in 1968 when he had to make a decision to run again for another full term. A change in Michigan’s Constitution allowed him to do so without upsetting the balance of the Court. He was forty-two years old and wanted to get off the Court as early as 1963 to return to the practice of law. It was as a practicing lawyer that I met him. I had the opportunity to see him in action, to observe the intense dedication that he gave to the cases that he agreed to take. He loved the heat of battle and frequently told me that a successful lawyer is a warrior at heart. He was a totally loyal, trusted counselor to his long list of clients, and his aura of reasoned calm was reassuring to those whose future literally hung in balance. I remember telling him early on in my case that a certain conclusive point had to be self-evident in a court of law because it was manifestly just. He smiled and very patiently answered that there is no such thing as obvious justice. Only good lawyers make it so.
On behalf of my husband and our family; I would like to thank you for honoring him with this dedication. I think I can speak for them when I say that we are glad that we could openly and with enormous pride bring his portrait through the front door of this Court today. Thank you.
MR. RILEY: Karla, I’m sure that Ted would have been very proud of your personal tribute and your tribute on behalf of the family to him.
It is true that shortly after the Society was formed and we took an inventory of our portraits, we discovered that one of those that we wanted to acquire at the earliest possible date was that of Justice Souris. I respected his decision not to have it painted and certainly not to have it hung while he was still practicing, but he later amended that to not have it hung while he was alive. I respected that. I never agreed and would not agree that it should come in the back door. It belongs and is entitled to the tributes that it received today because tributes are really tributes to him which he would have rejected but which he is entitled and those who loved him are entitled to hear. So, with that in mind, I am very happy that the Society was finally able to acquire the portrait of Justice SOURIS and I’m, equally pleased that he is smiling about what we did. So thank you very much.
That concludes our part of the proceedings. I understand that there is a reception that will be held on the ground floor of this building and that everyone who is present is invited. I understand also that the Court has scheduled, and is going to hold, public hearings, so the Court won’t be able to attend, but we thank you for giving us this time this morning for allowing us to schedule and to schedule it at a time and place when not only Karla and Dick Reed were available, but also the grandchildren. Thank you.
CHIEF JUSTICE TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Riley. On behalf of the Court, I thank you for this portrait of Justice SOURIS. I also thank Ms. Scherer and Mr. Reed, who have shared with us their own portrait will now become not only a part of this Court’s gallery of historic portraits, but a reminder of one of the most distinguished members of the Michigan bench and bar.
As a final matter, I would like to recognize two of our former colleagues who have joined us today, Justice JOHN FITZGERALD and Justice CHARLES LEVIN. We thank them for joining us, and I also want to recognize our great friend, former Attorney General Frank Kelly. We are now adjourned.