Supreme Court Rules, Practices, and Traditions

The Building

In what other places did the U.S. Supreme Court meet?

The Court met in Philadelphia from February 1791 until it moved to Washington, D.C., in 1801. The Court met in two places in Philadelphia—first, in the State House, and then for the rest of the decade in the Philadelphia City Hall building. The Supreme Court shared its physical location with the Mayor’s Court. If the Court’s schedule conflicted with the local court, the Court would often move upstairs to a room occupied by the Common Council.

In February 1801, the Court moved to Washington, D.C., where it met in an unfinished committee room in the Capitol building until 1809. In 1808 and 1809, the Capitol building underwent major remodeling, which forced the Court to move to several locations, including a nearby tavern in 1809.

In 1810, the Court began meeting in the basement of the Capitol. That changed when the British burned the building to the ground in August 1814 during the War of 1812. The justices met for approximately two years in a rented house near the Capitol building. That house later became known as Bell Tavern. In 1817, the Court returned to the Capitol to a room described as “little better than a dungeon.” In 1819, the Court returned to its courtroom where it remained until 1860 when it moved upstairs to the Old Supreme Court Chamber. The Court remained in this location until it finally received its own building in 1935.

A view of the Philadelphia State House, the second home of the U.S. Supreme Court, after it moved there from New York City. Library of Congress.

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