A chance to watch justice and democracy in action isn’t something that crosses some people’s minds, but once you get a glimpse of the top court in the world, you’d be hard-pressed to deny its potency.
Many of us have had the opportunity to see a local court in action — maybe a murder case, drug trafficking, fraud, that sort of thing. The Supreme Court of the United States (1 First St NE, Washington DC), however, means looking through a different window entirely. It’s the place where ideals are challenged, and where a long list of freedoms have been championed. It is, in part, the essence of democracy, perhaps rivaled only by the White House.
Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes has called the Supreme Court “distinctly American in concept and function.”
The Supreme Court building was designed by Cass Gilbert and constructed over four years. The court’s first session was Monday, October 7, 1935. Of course, the building’s architecture is exquisite and wonderfully ornate. Above the main door you will find these words: “Equal Justice Under Law.” But architecture isn’t quite the best reason to visit the Supreme Court. You need to see the court in action to appreciate its role.
Visitors to the Supreme Court are invited to select one of two lines: the first is for those that just want to peek in on the court’s action for a few minutes, while the other line is for people who plan to take in an entire session. Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can access the Supreme Court’s website to determine which arguments are happening. The court usually hears two one-hour arguments each day at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. An attorney for each side of the case is generally given 30 minutes to make a presentation to the court and answer questions posed by the Justices.
Usually In mid-May, after oral arguments, the court convenes Mondays at 10 a.m. for the release of orders and opinions. This practice continues until all the cases heard during the term are decided, usually during the last week in June.
The building is open to visitors Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It is closed Saturdays, Sundays and on federal holidays. Visitors are encouraged to take advantage of a variety of educational programs available during their visit including courtroom lectures, a visitors’ film, and exhibitions that are changed periodically.
Visitors may enter the building from the Plaza doors located on each side of the main steps
To obtain updated information on visiting the Court, please call 202-479-3211.
The current Courtroom Lecture schedule is available under Touring the Building.
Follow these links courtesy of the Supreme Court’s website: