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5 Surprising Facts About the U.S. Supreme Court

Founded in 1789 as part of the United States Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court of the nation’s federal judiciary system. In its more than 230 years of existence it has been responsible for landmark court decisions such as the Loving v Virginia ban on interracial marriage, New York Times Co. v United States freedom of the press case, and Bush v Gore presidential election dispute. Here’s some curious facts about the highest court in the land that are sure to impress your friends, family, and colleagues.

The court hasn’t always had a permanent home

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Despite the court being among the most distinguished governmental institutions, it has led somewhat of a nomadic life. The first court meetings were held in the Merchants Exchange Building in New York City, after which it moved with the National Capitol in 1790 to Philadelphia. When the Federal Government relocated to Washington, D.C., the court followed and used several chambers inside the United States Capitol. Chief Justice William Howard Taft proposed a plan for the court to have its own home in 1929 in order for it to create a distance from the United States Congress. Construction of the classical Corinthian-style landmark began in 1932 and became operational in 1935.

Only one president has sat on the court

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To date, William Howard Taft is the only President of the United States that has sat on the U.S. Supreme Court. He became the 27th president in 1909 and served one term. In 1921 he was appointed the 10th Chief Justice of the United States and held the post until shortly before his death in 1930. Charles Evans Hughes, who was Taft’s successor in 1930, came close to repeating the achievement. In 1916, Hughes had resigned from his position as Associate Justice to run for the presidency against Woodrow Wilson.

You can attend an official court meeting

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Ever wondered what the chief and associate justices do on a daily basis? The courtroom has seating capacity for 300 members of the public to attend oral arguments of between 70 and 80 annual cases. You’ll have the chance to listen as justices pose questions to the case attorneys and the attorneys present information that they deem vital to a case. It is free to attend an oral argument and entry is on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you don’t have the time to listen to an entire argument then you can opt for a three-minute brief session. Here’s the lowdown on the days, etiquette, and what you need to show for entry to an oral argument.

The building has its own art collection

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In 1973, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger established the Office of the Curator to preserve works of art that had been acquired since the 1830s. Today, you can see valuable objects from the collection via rotating exhibitions. Among them are decorative, fine and graphic arts, archives, memorabilia, and ephemera. There’s 19th-century judicial portraits by Cornelia Adele Fassett, such as The Florida Case before the Electoral Commission, busts of Chief Justices, the clock of lawyer Joseph Story, and records of notable women in the court’s history. Here’s a schedule of the current exhibition program.  

There’s a basketball court on the building’s upper floor

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While visiting the court you might hear the squeaking of shoes and bouncing of balls coming from above. That’s because on the upper floor of the building there’s a basketball court. This former storeroom is available for Supreme Court employees and off-duty police offices. Notable court employees Byron White and William H. Rehnquist have showcased their alley-oop, dribbling, and slam dunking talents on this court over the years.

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