The story behind the United States Supreme Court building


“The Republic endures, and it is the symbol of its faith.

– Justice Charles Evans Hughes,

Laying of the foundation stone for the Supreme Court building, 1932

“No court can stop time.”

– Judge Felix Frankfurter,

Scripps-Howard Radio v. FCC, 316 US 4 (1942)

There is no school excursion more common than the trip to Washington DC Students pack on buses and make the long trip so they can marvel at the White House, see the Capital Building and almost be killed by the fall of marble at the Supreme Court. Granted, that last experience isn’t usually part of the tour, but it was in 2005 for a group of school kids from Columbus.

In November of that year, a 172-pound piece of marble about the size of a basketball fell from the parapet immediately above the word “under” of the phrase “equal justice before the law. “. The coin shattered and then fell four stories onto the main steps of the Supreme Court building. Among those waiting to enter the building was a group of college students from Columbus. The students tried to pocket smaller pieces of marble as souvenirs, but the police in the capital made them return the pieces.

The Supreme Court building was constructed in 1935 and was the subject of a $ 122 million 5-year renovation project about a decade ago. Prior to 1935, there was no building dedicated to the Supreme Court, and it was relegated to cramped quarters borrowed from other branches of government.

The street map of Washington DC was drawn, from 1791, by the French emigrant Pierre Charles L’Enfant. He came to the United States as a military engineer under the Marquis de Lafayette. He was wounded at the Battle of Savannah in 1779 and served on General Washington’s staff for the remainder of the war. After the war, he designed houses, coins, furniture and medals.

Partly because of his friendship with Alexander Hamilton, L’Enfant was chosen as the architect of the new Federal District along the banks of the Potomac River. L’Enfant’s design was a standard grid – but with a twist; wide avenues that cross the grid diagonally and create long perspectives. He also designed two structures, a “congress house” and a “president’s palace”. But he designed no permanent home for the third branch of government – the judiciary – an oversight that aptly sums up the dominant view of the Supreme Court at the time.

Unfortunately, L’Enfant insisted that the whole city be built at the same time and became known for his temper. The new nation did not have sufficient funds to undertake the entire project and district commissioners disagreed with L’Enfant on how to proceed. Washington returned L’Enfant in 1792, and the enraged architect took his plans for the city with him when he left. The work was entrusted to surveyors Andrew and Joseph Ellicott and the brilliant mathematician Benjamin Banneker, who was the grandson of a freed slave. Banneker redesigned the memory plans and construction continued.

As for the Supreme Court, it continued to suffer under the weight of L’Enfant’s snub. Originally, the tribunal was located at the Merchant’s Exchange Building in New York City. When the capital moved to Philadelphia in 1790, the Supreme Court had quarters at State House and City Hall. When the government moved to Washington DC in 1800, Congress lent space to the Supreme Court in a small room in the basement of the Capital Building.

The tribunal would be moved no less than half a dozen times from room to room inside the capital building. In 1929, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, a former president, convinced Congress that the court needed a permanent home. Construction began in 1932 when Judge Charles Evans Hughes laid the foundation stone. The building was completed in 1935 and was built for less than its budget of $ 9.7 million.

The Ohio Supreme Court has done little better. Before 1857, the court was essentially homeless, with the circuit of judges on horseback. In 1857, the yard moved to a borrowed space in the Ohio Statehouse. In 1901 they were referred to the “judicial annex” and in 1974 they moved to the Rhodes State Office Tower. Finally, in 2004, after a major renovation project, Chief Justice Thomas Moyer moved the court to what was then known as the Ohio Departments Building. Following his untimely death, the building was renamed in his honor. It is truly a wonderful structure and well worth a trip to Columbus for a visit.

No trip to Washington is complete without a visit to each of the major memorials, the White House, the Capital Building, and the Supreme Court. But if you go, be sure to keep an eye out for the Marble Fall.

David Hejmanowski is a judge in the Estates / Minors Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served as a magistrate, court administrator, and now judge since 2003. He has written a weekly column on law and law. story for The Gazette since 2005.


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