The Supreme Court was established in 1789 by the founders of our country. Article 3 in the US Constitution written that year, establishes the Judicial Branch of our Government and the Supreme Court. The Constitution requires that Justices of the Supreme Court be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. There is no exact number of Supreme Court Justices called for in the Constitution; Congress sets the number of Justices but there have been nine Justices since 1869.
When the thirteen original states came together to form a new country in 1789 there were no Federal laws at all – only state laws. One of the most important jobs of the Supreme Court was to create a system of Federal laws. Ever since then the Justices have been at work to establish a body of Federal Laws by ruling each year on cases brought before the court. Approximately 7000 cases are submitted to the court each year but only 100 – 150 are actually accepted and heard.
The earliest Supreme Court was located wherever the US Capitol was located. In 1789 the US Capitol was located in New York City. However, at that time Justices were also required to ride circuit by traveling individually to the 13 states to hear cases. This practice meant the justices got out among the people of the country where they learned about citizens’ concerns while at the same time the justices brought the people of the country the sense that the US government was active and involved in their lives. When the Capitol moved permanently to Washington DC in 1800 so did the Supreme Court – their first session in the new Federal City was in 1801. Circuit riding ended in 1891 and was abolished by law in 1911.
The Supreme Court met for 134 years in cramped quarters near the Senate chamber in the US Capitol building in Washington DC. President Roosevelt and Congress along with President Taft were responsible for the building we see today. President Roosevelt was encouraged to build the court a separate headquarters by President Taft who had gone on from US President to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taft was extremely active in working with Congress to establish funding for a new home for the Supreme Court. The Justices moved into their new building in October 1935.
The building contains only one courtroom – the famous Supreme Court Chamber. When the building reopens after Covid weekday tours of the courtroom may resume. When inside the building you will see a gallery on ground level displaying artifacts from the early days of the court. There are also portraits of every Supreme Court Justice. Upstairs, in the dramatic columned chamber leading to the courtroom, there are busts of every Chief Justice. Once inside the courtroom, you will hear from Supreme Court staffers about the history of the court and also have the opportunity to ask questions.
If you are able to visit, the building is on the East End of the mall, so for picture taking, come by in the afternoon or evening if you can so the sun will be behind you. This is a very photogenic building. The entrance to visit is to the right of the staircase on the ground floor. The building is patrolled with security, they usually allow you to walk up to steps for photos, if you tour the inside of the building you can exit the large doors and come back out going down the steps, or get back to the ground floor and exit using the doors that are on the left side of the stairs. You will need to go through security to enter the building.
- Library of Congress
- The U.S. Capitol Building
- The House of Representatives Office Buildings
- The Senate Office Buildings
- The Shakespeare Library