Washington, D.C. Travel Guide

Washington, D.C. Sights

The Supreme Court

  • 1 1st St. NE Map It
  • Capitol Hill
  • Government Building

Published 07/20/2015

Fodor's Review

It wasn't until 1935 that the Supreme Court got its own building: a white-marble temple with twin rows of Corinthian columns designed by Cass Gilbert. Before then, the justices had been moved around to various rooms in the Capitol; for a while they even met in a tavern. William Howard Taft, the only man to serve as both president and chief justice, was instrumental in getting the court a home of its own, though he died before the building was completed. Today you can sit in the gallery and see the court in action. Even when court isn't in session, there are still things to see.

The court convenes on the first Monday in October and hears cases until April (though court is in session through June). There are usually two arguments a day at 10 and 11 in the morning, Monday through Wednesday, in two-week intervals.

On mornings when court is in session, two lines form for people wanting to attend. The "three-to-five-minute" line shuttles you through, giving you a quick impression

of the court at work. The full-session line gets you in for the whole show. If you want to see a full session, it's best to be in line by at least 8:30. For the most-contentious cases, viewers have been known to queue up days before. In May and June the court takes to the bench Monday morning at 10 to release orders and opinions. Sessions usually last 15 to 30 minutes and are open to the public.

How does a hardworking Supreme Court justice unwind? Maybe on the building's basketball court, known as "the highest court in the land." It's not open to the public, but try to imagine Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg trading elbows in the lane.

The Washington Post carries a daily listing of what cases the court will hear. The court displays its calendar of cases a month in advance on its website; click on "Oral Arguments." You can't bring your overcoat or electronics such as cameras and cell phones into the courtroom, but you can store them in a coin-operated locker. When court isn't in session, you can hear lectures about the court, typically given every hour on the half hour from 9:30 to 3:30. On the ground floor you can also find revolving exhibits, a video about the court, a gift shop, an information desk, and a larger-than-life statue of John Marshall, the longest-serving chief justice in Supreme Court history. Rumor has it that some lawyers visit the statue of John Marshall to rub the toe of his shoe for good luck on their way to arguing before the court.

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  • US Supreme Court, Washington, DC, USA

    Gary Blakeley / Shutterstock

Sight Information

Address:

1 1st St. NE, Washington, District of Columbia, 20543, USA

Map It

Phone:

202-479–3030

Sight Details:

  • Free

Published 07/20/2015

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