US Supreme Court
The Supreme Court Building is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States. It was built when, 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.

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."

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. 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."

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 (appropriately named the "Highest Court in the Land")
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.
  • Supreme Court Flagpole Bases, and bronze doors in the east and west facades by John Donnelly.
  • East pediment - Justice, the Guardian of Liberty by Hermon Atkins MacNeil
  • West pediment - Equal Justice Under the Law by Robert Ingersoll Aitken. This work includes a portrait of Cass Gilbert, third from the left in the pediment. It also contains a self-portrait of Robert Ingersoll Aitken third from the right.
  • Seated figures - The Authority of Law (south side) and The Contemplation of Justice (north side) by James Earle Fraser
  • Courtroom friezes - The South Wall Frieze includes figures of lawgivers from the ancient world and includes Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius, and Augustus. The North Wall Frieze shows lawgivers from the middle ages on and includes representations of Justinian, Muhammad, Charlemagne, John of England, Louis IX of France, Hugo Grotius, Sir William Blackstone, John Marshall, and Napoleon. The figure of Muhammad has caused controversy.
  • Great Hall - Busts of each of the Chief Justices of the United States in alcoves on either side of the Hall. These marble works are periodically appropriated by the Congress. The most recent addition was Chief Justice Rehnquist's bust in December 2009 to the far end of the north side of the Hall, just to the left of the Courtroom doors.

On May 3, 2010, citing security concerns and as part of the building's modernization project, the Supreme Court announced that the public (including parties to the cases being argued, the attorneys who represent them, and visitors to Oral arguments or the building) would no longer be allowed to enter the building through the main door on top of the steps on the west side. Visitors must now enter through ground-level doors located at the plaza, leading to a reinforced area for security screening. The main doors at the top of the steps may still be used to exit the building. Justice Breyer released a statement, joined by Justice Ginsburg, expressing his opinion that although he recognizes the security concerns that led to the decision, he does not believe on balance that the closure is justified. Calling the decision "dispiriting", he said he was not aware of any Supreme Court in the world that had closed its main entrance to the public.


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Building Activity

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