A Visit to the US Supreme Court

 

While controversial both internationally and domestically in terms of policies abroad and at home, there is no denying that Washington, D.C. is a world class place. With its abundance of classical Greek architecture, perhaps no city in the world more closely resembles what ancient Athens looked like when the Parthenon was built nearly 2,500 years ago. Only London surpasses America’s capital with the quality of its free museums, and not by much. For Americans, Washington’s museums and monuments spark nationalistic pride, but search deeper and the city itself frequently asks you to philosophize on the roles of government and our own duties to society. Aside from the Capital building itself, a visit to the US Supreme Court, to view 9 of the world’s most powerful seats, should leave you with much to contemplate.

US Supreme Court Building

Supreme Court Press
You’ll frequently see members of the press camped out in front of the US Supreme Court.

 

As one of the three main branches of the US government, the 9 presidentially appointed and congressionally approved lifetime members of America’s highest court deliberate and decide on landmark cases that profoundly impact American lives. The Supreme Court ended segregation in American schools in the 1960’s, paved the way for legalized abortions and even decided an American election, when in 2000 they voted 5-4 to stop the Florida recount, making George W. Bush the US president in Bush vs. Gore. In recent years the court has allowed infinite money into US elections through political action committees and just ruled that corporations have religious rights and can deny providing certain health coverage to their employees, like birth control, in a tight 5-4 decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby. While we typically don’t get into politics on this blog, it’s become clear that the Supreme Court is generally driven by big business, and the haves can more freely impose their beliefs on the have nots.

Equal Justice Under Law- US Supreme Court
Equal Justice Under Law…Great question!

 

Aside from being in a beautiful building of immense power, one of the most special things about visiting the US Supreme Court is that its a place you won’t see on television. The few members of the press that are allowed to cover US Supreme Court sessions aren’t allowed to have any video or audio equipment. So media have nothing more than pen and paper or drawing equipment. During major cases, there will typically be an artists rendition of any important moment during the trial.

Scoring tickets to a US Supreme Court case is tricky business. First you have to write your local Congressman expressing interest in a specific amendment, many months in advance. You’ll then receive tickets to a case dealing with the amendment you requested, but you need to arrive in the wee hours of the morning and wait hours if you want to spend the entire day in the courtroom. Arrive late and you’ll only have 3 minutes in one of the rotating spectator seats, but at least you’ll get a taste of the Supreme Court in action (or Clarence Thomas sleeping and Antonin Scalia scowling because he’s still breathing).

A rare photo of the seats of the United States Supreme Court. Pictures are only permitted from the hallway when the court is not in session.
A rare photo of the seats of the United States Supreme Court. Pictures are only permitted from the hallway when the court is not in session.

 

Supreme Court Statues
 

Supreme Court- John Marshall Statue

A video on the Supreme Court runs continuously for visitors. Here Chief Justice John Roberts discusses the work that goes into their cases.
A video on the Supreme Court runs continuously on the ground floor exhibition area. Here Chief Justice John Roberts discusses the work that goes into their cases.

 

May all sandwiches be created equal...and may no chicken tender trump the rights of a chicken wing.
May all sandwiches be created equal…and may no chicken tender trump the rights of a chicken wing.

 

Before visiting the Supreme Court know that you’re going to go through tight security screening, equal to airport security even when the court isn’t in session. So for some, this means leaving your guns at home or in your car. Cameras are allowed, and you can take photos of the courtroom from the hallway, but not once your inside, even during a lecture tour. Snap a photo while inside the courtroom and you’ll be escorted out.

While impressive and thought provoking to be inside the court, the lecturer dumbed the experience down by asking questions like “name your favorite Supreme Court Justice and I’ll tell you where they sit.” The lecture lasted 30 minutes and she took the time to answer two of our questions, the first from an older lady who had earlier stated her favorite judge was Chief Justice John Roberts. For the second question my hand was passed up for a 12 year old boy who had previously remarked that he learned in school that the judges were voted in by the American people. To quote George W. Bush, “Is the children learning?”

Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court. She was appointed by President Reagan in 1981 and served until her retirement in 2006. Today 3 women serve on the court, with 2 having been appointed by President Obama.
Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court. She was appointed by President Reagan in 1981 and served until her retirement in 2006. Today 3 women serve on the court, with 2 having been appointed by President Obama.

 

 

Supreme Court Case Quotes

Two of America's three branches of government face each other across First Street. The White House is just across town.
View of the US Capital Building from the Supreme Court. The White House is 2 miles across town.

3 thoughts on “A Visit to the US Supreme Court

  1. An interesting perspective on the U.S. Supreme Court. Your post caught our eye (we’re both trained as Canadian lawyers). We’re sometimes surprised by court decisions in our country that we think are wrong – but for the most part, we’re glad that our Canadian legal system works as well as it does, compared to many other countries we travel to, where rights and freedoms similar to ours simply don’t exist.

    1. Thank you for comment guys! It’s interesting to get the perspective of Canadian lawyers, seeing as how you’re neighbours and while we have many similarities we obviously have many subtle cultural differences and a big difference in how our government works. It’s shocking how little the American media covers Canada, you barely know it exists in this country. And what little coverage of Canada there is, it’s usually biased coverage bashing your health care system.

      We have a couple friends who are American lawyers and a couple friends who are European lawyers. We don’t know any Canadian ones. We’d love to have a more in depth conversation on all this sometime in the future!

Have something to share?