The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the country.The Supreme Court building is quite new compared to other symbols of American democracy. Completed in 1935, (145 years after the Supreme Court first met) this building is where the nine black-robed Supreme Court justices interpret our nation's laws. This building is an impressive sight with its 16 white Vermont marble columns that stand outside the front entrance. Above the columns is written the famous phrase "Equal Justice Under Law"
If the justices decide a law violates the U.S. Constitution, they have the power to reject that law. These justices hear, on average, 500 cases a year. About 500,000 visitors tour the Supreme Court building each year.
The Supreme Court building resembles a Greek temple. The bronze entrance doors are oversized and weighs over 13 tons. Its majestic look attracts not only visitors. Each year, the building is the site of many demonstrations where people gather to protest laws they think unfair.
Located ust a few steps away from the Capitol, makes it easy to see and to visit.
Nerd that I am, I was very excited about going to see the Supreme Court. I find it facinating that in many ways this body of 9 people has more power over daily life in the US than any other group of individuals. You can take free guided tours of the Supreme Court Building, check out cool exhibits that explain how the judicial system works, and even hear oral arguments when the court is in session (Oct - April.). The building iteself is very beautiful and contains sculpture, statutes, and friezes depicting Justice, Liberty, and Equality. Cool.
The Supreme Court did not get a permanent home in Washington DC until 1935. It had been housed in the New York Merchant's Exchange Building, Philadelphia's Independence Hall, the basement of the Capitol building, the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol, and the Old Senate Chamber upstairs in the Capitol.
The Supreme Court building faces the Capitol and is home to the offices of the nine US Supreme Court Justices, as well as the court itself. The facade says "Equal Justice Under Law"In front of the building are two small reflecting pools, sculptures of "Contemplation of Justice" and "Authority of Law" and two flagpoles.
A federal court; the highest body in the Judicial Branch. The Supreme Court is composed of a chief justice and eight associate justices, all of whom are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. They serve on the Court as long as they choose, subject only to impeachment.
Each state also has a Supreme Court; which are Courts of Appeals, primarily hearing cases that have already been tried. The Federal Supreme Court ('THE' Supreme Court) has the final word on interpretation of all laws and of the Constitution. Supreme Court decisions have a significant impact on public policy, and are often extremely controversial.
In this formidable Greek style temple, the nine Supreme Court Justices make final their interpretations of the Constitution in the laws of the land.
When we visited the Building there was a silent demonstration taking place outside (see picture # 4).
We climbed the steps and entered the hall after a checking of our body and bags. The lines were long, but bearable. The Hall had, along its two walls, sculptures of all its Chief Justices, who had served the Court. We observed a few courts and made an exit.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
As you approach the U.S Supreme Court Building, look up. You will see near the top of the building a row of relief sculptures of the great law givers of our world's history. Each one of them is generally facing toward the one in the middle who is facing forward. This one in the center is Moses and he is holding the Ten Commandments! Today, the body which meets in this building and has ultimate jurisdiction over the most momentous cases before our judicial system has decided that it is against the law to display those same Ten Commandments in any government-owned location but the people who founded this country and made it so great appropriately regarded the Ten Commandments as the centerpiece of the entire legal system of this nation.
In response to the "comment" of VT member, MrWeisberg, who is apparently an American liberal who refuses to accept the Judeo-Christian heritage and who also castigated me for mis-identifying the man in the center, the following is a verbatim quote from http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/butowsky2/constitution9.htm:
On the east front of the building is a sculpture group by Herman A. McNeil and the marble figures represent great lawgivers, Moses, Confucius, and Solon, flanked by symbolic groups representing Means of Enforcing the Law, Tempering Justice with Mercy, Carrying on of Civilization and Settlement of Disputes Between States. The Architrave bears the legend: "Justice the Guardian of Liberty."
As you enter the Supreme Court courtroom, the huge oak doors through which you enter also have the Ten Commandments engraved on the lower portion of each door.
As you sit inside the courtroom, you can see on the wall, right above where the Supreme Court justices sit, a display of the Ten Commandments.
Of course, like many places we wanted to visit on this particular day, it was closed. The building is open Mon-Fri 9-4:30 and closed on Federal holidays, inclement weather and occasionally for cleaning. It's incredibly beautiful on the outside, though.
Located at One First Street NE, the Supreme Court of the United States offers Public Lectures conducted in the courtroom every hour on the half hour between 9:30 am and 3:30 pm Monday through Friday, except when the court is in session.
The Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices.