Although I had seen the model of the United States Supreme Court building I made quite common mistake of many visitors. I didn't go East to see eastern front of the building. Instead I took a break, sat on a bench in the court grounds and took a picture of pretty grass-like plants.
The main, rectangular and longitudinal court edifice built in classical style has two facades the western and eastern. Go East along long court wall to see the eastern facade.
The part of the United States Supreme Court building which is open for visitors reminds a picture and sculpture gallery. On the ground floor there is a small museum or better to say exposition on history of the Court, its heroes and architecture of the building.
Its most dignified part is dedicated to John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the United States for over three decades (1801 - 1835). I saw his seated statue and I got to know that he lived in Richmond, Virginia, the city of many famous Americans I had visited a few days earlier and liked a lot. His "old gold" pocket watch made in England was displayed among other his belongings.
I also got to know that he was the principal founder of American constitutional law and the power of judicial review. In a series of historic decisions, he established the judiciary as an independent and influential branch of the government equal to Congress and the Presidency. Perhaps the most significant of these cases was that of Marbury v. Madison, in which the principle of judicial review was stated by Marshall: "A legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law."
During Marshall's times the most permanent home for the Supreme Court was the Capitol building. Wasn't it a too-cozy arrangement for a government that prided itself on separation of powers?
I walked to the east end of the marble Great Hall of United States Supreme Court to enter the Court Chamber. I saw a large dignified room with marble columns on both sides and in front, marble walls and floor and coffered ceiling. A school group sat on the benches while their guide was talking some interesting stories. As I understood well in the beginning some people criticized and complained that the Supreme Court building was bombastically pretentious for old boys (the Justicies are traditionally senior citizens) and suggested the Justices ought to enter the courtroom riding on elephants :-). I would like to see it :-).
Well, I got to know that a few kinds of marble were used in the Court Chamber including Old Convent Quarry Siena marble from Liguria, Italy (24 columns), Ivory Vein marble from Alicante, Spain ( walls and friezes), Italian and African marble (floor borders). The raised Bench behind which the Justices sit during sessions, and other furniture in the Courtroom are mahogany.
Models of both contemporary and old Court Chamber are displayed on the exposition set up on the ground floor. The smaller Old Court Chamber, located in U.S. Capitol, was used from 1819 to 1860.
I entered the United States Supreme Court building through the opened bronze doors of the west front and I didn't notice the doors ornamented with panels depicting historic scenes in the development of law. Each door weighs six and a half tone!
As usual entering any Federal building I had to go through hand-check of bags and pass through metal detectors. I entered long marble hall at least 3 times higher than my own apartment. This main corridor is called the Great Hall. Double rows of monolithic marble columns at each side rise to a coffered ceiling which has amazed me most.
There are busts of all former Chief Justicies put on pedestals in niches along the side walls. At first I was surprised that there were only 16 Chief Justices since 1789 till 2005 that is during 216 years! Now, the 17th is at the office. It means that average Chief Justice served 13 and a half years. Well, the U.S. Constitution states that all justices of the Court "shall hold their offices during good behavior," meaning that appointments are for life: they end only when a justice chooses to retire, dies, or is impeached and convicted by the Congress.
Chief Justice of the United States (often incorrectly called "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court") is the head of the judicial branch of the government of the United States, and presides over the Supreme Court of the United States. The highest judicial officer in the country, the Chief Justice leads the business of the Supreme Court, administers the oath of office at presidential inaugurations, and presides over the Senate during impeachment trials of the President of the United States.
He (no women as for now) is nominated by the President and confirmed to sit on the Court by the U.S. Senate. The salary of the Chief Justice is set by Congress. It is $203,000 per annum as of 2005. Only? :-) Well, I think he doesn't pay any taxes as he may adjudicate tax cases, right?
Surprisingly the United States Supreme Court was not provided with its own building until 1935 that was during first 146 years of its existence. A pernament home for the Court was designed by Cass Gilbert (he also designed Minnesota and West Virginia state capitols) in a classical Corinthian style which reflects the optimistic American sense that the nation was the heir of Greek democracy, Roman law and Renaissance humanism.
Haha, add here Poland, please, which drew up and adopted Europe's first modern codified national constitution (Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791) as well as the second oldest constitution in the world just after the Constitution of the United States from 1787 (ratified in 1789). Hmm... ironically, Gilbert's friendship with Mussolini helped him obtain the marble used for the interior columns.
I looked up at the architrave above the 16 marble columns (in two rows) at the front entrance and thought about this Polish constitution and certainly numerous ancient Greek temples I had already visited including the most famous Parthenon in Athens, Greece. They all had 8 columns in front.
There is the famous and proud phrase "EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW" inscribed below the pediment on the architrave (main beam). These four words did not occur in any significant government document or court ruling prior to the completion of the Supreme Court building in 1935. The pediment sculptures of Liberty seated in a throne and attended by figures who represent Order and Authority were executed by Herman A. MacNeil.
Surely I had to take a few pictures of Urszula, my wife with the Supreme Court building in the background (guess why), both in the oval plaza and on the famous main steps which are flanked by white marble seated figures. There is a female figure, "Contemplation of Justice" on the left and a male figure, "Guardian" or "Authority of Law" on the right.
Both large statues were sculptured by James Earle Fraser (1876 - 1953), an American sculptor, born in Winona, Minnesota. I saw National Archives Building with pediment sculptured by Fraser two days earlier and I saw John Ericcson Memorial (details in my Off The Beaten Path tip Monument to Swedish-American inventor) by him two days later. His sculptures are not my favourite works of art but allegoric figures and items used in his works express something.
Some two weeks later I saw his most known, impressive and famous sculpture "End of the Trail" in National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. I've got to know that nickels (US 5 cents coins), so called Buffalo nickels produced in 1913–1938 had a profile of buffalo and Indian (opss.. they say "Native American" now) head designed just by Fraser.
The main entrance to the Supreme Court Building is on the west side, facing the eastern Capitol grounds and the United States Capitol building. A few low steps led me to the 77-meter-wide (252 feet) oval plaza with fountains, flagpoles and benches in front of the building. The steps are flanked by a pair of marble candelabra. Carved panels on their square bases depict Justice with sword and scales and the Three Fates, weaving the thread of life.
It was nothing strange. Lady Justice (or the Goddess of Justice) is a personification of the legal system. She is frequently depicted as a bare-breasted woman carrying a sword and scales, and sometimes wearing a blindfold. The image is frequently used to adorn courthouses and courtrooms.
The Three Fates (or Moirae: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos) in Greek mythology were the personifications of destiny.
As an institution, this is one of the Fundamental structures of a functioning republic-furthermore the building is impressive, but more impressive were the school tours where the children were learning the concepts of democratic society. While I would not say that democracy is perfect, nor even that America is a perfect example of democracy, I think that taking school children to the capitol buildings and explaining what they are and what they do is the Best example I have seen of supporting and strengthening democracy. Explaining to school children how it should work is vital to preserve and enhance the system. It migfht even encourage them to vote when they get older.
Supreme Court is the highest tribunal in the United States and the court's rulings are final.
It's the Supreme Court's chief justice & 8 associate justices responsibilities to decide whether actions of Congress, President, the states and lower courts are in accord with the Constitution.
Starting from first Monday in October through late April, Mon-Wed, 10am-noon, we can see a case being argued. From mid May to late June, we can attend brief sessions at 10am on Monday, when the justices release orders and opinions.
When the Court is not in session, you can tour the building & attend a free lecture (every hour on the half-hour from 9:30am to 3:30pm) in the courtroom about Court procedure & the building's architecture.
"As justice in America may be divided between being fair and being righteous, let those two states of being become one virtue as this country is judged by itself, for itself"- HotspotJ
The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom. -
Supreme Court Justice DW Orville
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