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–by Allie Swislocki

Old Supreme Court chamber (Architect of the Capitol)

One of the first stops along your Capitol tour will be the Old Supreme Court Chamber. Located just to the right of the original front door of the Capitol, the Old Supreme Court served as the home for the Senate from 1800 until 1808. In 1810, the Supreme Court moved in.

Over the next fifty years, the Supreme Court would hear some of the most important and controversial cases in its history. The court used this room during the antebellum period, the era leading up to the start of the Civil War in 1861. The Amistad case and the Dred Scott case were both heard and decided in this chamber. Two of America’s most famous chief justices served in this chamber as well—Chief Justice John Marshall and Chief Justice Roger Taney.

The Supreme Court would eventually get its own building, but not until 1935. The court vacated this chamber and moved to what is now the Old Senate Chamber in 1860. The first chamber then served as a law library until 1951.

The chamber in use as a law library (Architect of the Capitol)

The Old Supreme Court chamber is also one of the most historically accurate rooms in the Capitol, a fact that always gets this self-proclaimed history nerd very excited. The furniture in the front of the room, including the chairs and desks that the justices would have used, are all from the mid-nineteenth century. The clock on the back wall, above the fireplace, has been ticking away the minutes since 1837, always five minutes ahead of Eastern Standard Time, by order of Chief Justice Taney, to ensure courtroom promptness. It helps keep tours on track, too—don’t let your group move ahead without you!

Sources
Architect of the Capitol information on the chamber, including lots of architectural details

 

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