United States Supreme Court Building: Wikis


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Supreme Court Building
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Facade of the Supreme Court Building after renovation
Location: 1 First Street, Northeast

Washington, D.C.

Coordinates: 38°53′27″N 77°0′16″W / 38.89083°N 77.00444°W / 38.89083; -77.00444Coordinates: 38°53′27″N 77°0′16″W / 38.89083°N 77.00444°W / 38.89083; -77.00444
Built/Founded: 1935
Governing body: Federal government of the United States
Designated NHL: May 4, 1987[1]
NRHP Reference#: 87001294[1]

The Supreme Court Building is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States. It is situated in Washington, D.C. at 1 First Street, NE, on the block immediately east of the United States Capitol. The building is under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol. On May 4, 1987, the Supreme Court Building was designated a National Historic Landmark.[1]



Prior to the establishment of the Federal City, the United States government resided briefly in New York City, New York. As such, the Supreme Court met there during this time in the Merchants Exchange Building. When the capital moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Court moved with it and began meeting in Independence Hall, and later in City Hall.[2]

Supreme Court Building, circa 1935

After the federal government was established in Washington, the court was housed in a small basement room in the United States Capitol.[3] It remained in the Capitol until 1935, with the exception of a period from 1812 to 1819, during which the Court was absent from Washington because of the British invasion and destruction of the Capitol in the War of 1812.[2]

In 1810, the Supreme Court first occupied the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol.[2]As the Senate expanded, it progressively outgrew its quarters. In 1860, the Supreme Court moved to the Old Senate Chamber (as it is now known) where it remained until its move to the current Supreme Court building. In 1929, Chief Justice William Howard Taft argued successfully for the Court to have its own headquarters to distance itself from Congress as an independent branch of government.

Temple of justice

"Equal Justice Under Law" over the western façade
"Justice the Guardian of Liberty" over the eastern façade
The Supreme Court courtroom interior

The Supreme Court Building is located at 1 First Street, NE (across the street from the Capitol) and was designed by architect Cass Gilbert. It rises four stories (92 feet) above ground. The cornerstone was laid on October 13, 1932 and construction completed in 1935, having cost $9.74 million, $94,000 under budget. "The building was designed on a scale in keeping with the importance and dignity of the Court and the Judiciary as a coequal, independent branch of the United States Government, and as a symbol of 'the national ideal of justice in the highest sphere of activity."[2]

The public façade of the Supreme Court Building is made of marble quarried from Vermont, and that of the non-public-facing courtyards, Georgian marble. Most of the interior spaces are lined with Alabama marble, except for the Courtroom itself, which is lined with Spanish ivory vein marble.[4] For the Courtroom's 24 columns, "Gilbert felt that only the ivory buff and golden marble from the Montarrenti quarries near Siena, Italy" would suffice. To this end, in May 1933, he petitioned the Italian Premier, Benito Mussolini, "to ask his assistance in guaranteeing that the Siena quarries sent nothing inferior to the official sample marble".

Not all the justices were thrilled by the new arrangements, the courtroom in particular. Harlan Fiske Stone complained it was "almost bombastically pretentious...Wholly inappropriate for a quiet group of old boys such as the Supreme Court." Another justice observed that he felt the court would be "nine black beetles in the Temple of Karnak," while still another complained that such pomp and ceremony suggested the justices ought to enter the courtroom riding on elephants. The New Yorker columnist Howard Brubaker noted at the time of its opening that it had "fine big windows to throw the New Deal out of."[5]

The west façade of the building (essentially, the "front" of the court, being the side which faces the Capitol) bears the motto "Equal Justice Under Law," while the east facade bears the motto "Justice, the Guardian of Liberty."

The Supreme Court Building's facilities include:

  • In the basement: maintenance facilities, garage, on-site mailroom.
  • On the first (or ground) floor: Public information office, the clerk's office, the publications unit, exhibit halls, cafeteria, gift shop and administrative offices.
  • On the second floor: the Great Hall, the courtroom, the conference room, and all of the justices' chambers except Justice Ginsburg's (she chose a roomier office on the third floor).
  • On the third floor: The office of Justice Ginsburg, the office of the reporter of decisions, the legal office, and the offices of the law clerks. Also, the justices' dining and reading rooms are on this floor.
  • On the fourth floor: The court library
  • On the fifth floor: The Supreme Court gym, including a basketball court nicknamed the "Highest Court in the Land"[6]

In addition, the Supreme Court Building maintains its own police force, the Supreme Court Police. Separate from the Capitol Police, the force was created in 1935 to look after the building and its personnel.

Sculptural program

"Contemplation of Justice"
"Authority of Law"

Cass Gilbert's design for the building and its environs included an ambitious Beaux-Arts styled sculptural program that included a large number and variety of both real and allegorical figures.

Visiting the Court

All visitors to the Court must pass through metal-detectors and have their belongings x-rayed. Cameras are permitted in the building, but no recording devices of any kind, audio, or visual, are ever permitted in the Courtroom. When the Court is not in session, vistors can walk through the Great Hall and public areas on the ground floor, including the cafeteria and a small movie theater presenting a documentary of the Court, and guided lectures are periodically given in the Courtroom, which is not otherwise accessible. The line for these tours forms in a designated area to the side of the Courtroom doors.[7]

When the Court is in session, the building is not open to the public. The arguments are typically held in two-week cycles of a 10 A.M. and 11 A.M. argument on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays[8]. Interested visitors should consult the Court's website for specific dates[9]. Depending on the significance of the case and the time of year (winter arguments are less popular), visitors should arrive at the Court anywhere from two hours in advance to, in extremely controversial cases, the night before. At some point in the morning, which is not predetermined, the Supreme Court Police Offices distribute numbered tickets. These serve as place-holders only and not a guarantee of admission. Visitors who have ticket may leave the area and return at the appointed time to line up in numerical order, usually one hour before the argument. At this time, there usually are several hundred persons waiting outside the Court, most of whom are not able to observe either argument[10]. While the Courtroom does have seating for some 250 public visitors, in practice there are almost always large groups of students or officials that reduce that number, and visitors who are admitted to observe the first argument generally stay for the second argument, making the total seats available for the second argument generally very small. Just before the first argument, the officers divide the crowd into two lines: one is for those waiting with tickets to observe the full entire argument, while the other is to observe a five-minute span of the argument while standing in the back of the Courtroom. Both lines remain in place during the first argument. Visitors must stand when the Justices enter and leave, and remain absolutely silent. Drowsy, noisy, or otherwise disruptive visitors are promptly removed by plainclothes officers. Parents are strongly discouraged from bringing small children[11].


United States of America
Seal of the United States Supreme Court

This article is part of the series on the
 United States
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The Court

Decisions · Procedure
History · Court Building

Current membership

Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
John Paul Stevens
Antonin Scalia
Anthony Kennedy
Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer
Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor
Retired Associate Justices
Sandra Day O'Connor
David Souter

All members

List of all members
(by court • by seat • by time in office)
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(by time in office)

All nominations
Unsuccessful nominations

Court demographics

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Clerks · Reporter of Decisions
Supreme Court Police

Other countries · Law Portal
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  • On November 28, 2005, a basketball-sized chunk of marble weighing approximately 172 pounds fell four stories from the façade onto the steps of the Court; it had previously been part of the parapet above the word "under" in the "Equal justice under law" engraved on the court's façade immediately above the figure of a Roman centurion carrying fasces. The falling piece did not appear to be related to restoration work that was underway in the building at the time.
  • In 1997, the Council on American-Islamic Relations requested that the Supreme Court remove the image of Muhammad from the marble frieze of the façade. While appreciating the fact that Muhammad was included in the court's pantheon of 18 prominent lawgivers of history, CAIR noted that Islam discourages depictions of Muhammad in any artistic representation. CAIR also objected that the prophet was shown with a sword, reinforcing long-held stereotypes of Muslims as intolerant conquerors. Chief Justice William Rehnquist rejected the request to sandblast Muhammad, saying the artwork "was intended only to recognize him, among many other lawgivers, as an important figure in the history of law; it is not intended as a form of idol worship." The court later added a footnote to tourist materials describing the frieze, calling it a "a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor to honor Muhammad."[12]
  • On Sunday, January 13, 2002, a wild fox entered the building. Although spotted by a police officer and observed on video cameras, it eluded capture for more than a day. The marble floors of the building made it difficult to track.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Supreme Court Building". National Historic Landmarks Program. National Park Service. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=2000&ResourceType=Building. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Overview of the Supreme Court Building". United States Supreme Court. http://www.supremecourtus.gov/about/courtbuilding.pdf. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  3. ^ Rehnquist, William H. (1987, 2001). The Supreme Court (2nd ed.). Vintage Books (Random House, Inc). p. 24. ISBN 0375708618. 
  4. ^ "History of the Court: Homes of the Court". Supreme Court Historical Society. http://www.supremecourthistory.org/02_history/subs_sites/02_d.html. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  5. ^ Tomlins, Christopher (2005). The United States Supreme Court: The Pursuit of Justice (1st ed.). Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0618329692. 
  6. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/31/politics/politicsspecial1/31roberts.html?pagewanted=all
  7. ^ http://www.supremecourtus.gov/visiting/visitorservices.pdf
  8. ^ http://www.supremecourtus.gov/visiting/visitorsguidetooralargument.pdf
  9. ^ http://www.supremecourtus.gov/visiting/visitorsguidetooralargument.pdf
  10. ^ http://www.supremecourtus.gov/about/courtbuilding.pdf
  11. ^ http://www.supremecourtus.gov/visiting/visitorservices.pdf
  12. ^ Mauro, Tony (2005-03-02). "The Supreme Court's Own Commandments". The Legal Times. http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1109597692160. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  13. ^ Biskupic, Joan (2002-01-15). "Sly intruder infiltrates Supreme Court". USA Today. pp. A3. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/USAToday/access/99737254.html?dids=99737254:99737254&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Jan+15%2C+2002&author=Joan+Biskupic&pub=USA+TODAY&edition=&startpage=A.03&desc=Sly+intruder+infiltrates+Supreme+Court. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 

External links


Simple English

File:Supreme Court Front
The front of the United States Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court building is home of the Supreme Court of the United States. It is located in Washington, D.C.


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