The ultimate judicial and constitutional authority, the United States Supreme Court pays homage in its architecture to the rule of law. Justices are appointed for life, and their temple reflects their eminence. Designed by Cass Gilbert in the 1930s, its classical façade incorporates Corinthian columns supporting a pediment decorated with bas-reliefs representing Liberty, Law, Order and a crew of historical lawgivers. The sober style conceals whimsy in the shape of sculpted turtles lurking to express the "deliberate pace" of judicial deliberations. There are also ferocious lions—enough said.
You can tour the building any time. Visitors enter from the plaza doors, on either side of the main steps. The ground level has a cafeteria, an introductory video show, a gift shop and changing exhibitions. The cathedral-like entrance hall daunts one into hushed tones. The courtroom, with its heavy burgundy velvet draperies and marble pillars, is where the nine judges hear around 120 of the more than 6,500 cases submitted each year. The black-robed figures appear as the court marshal announces "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" and sit in seats of varying height, handcrafted to their personal preferences. Goose-quill pens still grace the lawyers’ tables, for tradition’s sake.
When the court is in session, generally in two-week intervals from October to April, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, visitors can see cases argued ("oral arguments"). There are generally two one-hour arguments a day, at 10am and 11am, with occasional afternoon sessions. The website has details of which days are "argument days". Two lines form in the plaza in front of the building: one for those who want to hear the whole argument (better be there by 8am), and the "three-minute line", for those who just want a peek. Seating for whole-argument visitors is at 9.30am; three-minute visitors are admitted from 10am. In May and June, "opinions" are handed down usually on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Check the newspapers’ Supreme Court calendars or www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments to see what cases are scheduled. Celebrated cases draw massive queues.
Thirty-minute courtroom lectures, by docents, are available daily. On days that the Court is not sitting, they are hourly, on the half-hour, beginning at 9.30 a.m. with a final lecture at 3.30pm. When the Court is in session, lectures take place only after Court adjourns for the day. A line forms in the Great Hall on the ground floor before each lecture, and visitors are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis.
|Venue name:||Supreme Court|
1st Street & Maryland Avenue, NW
|Opening hours:||9am–4.30pm Mon–Fri|
|Transport:||Capitol South or Union Station Metro|