This engraving shows the Supreme Court of 1888 hearing oral arguments. At this time, it met in a smaller room in the Capitol building. (AP)

This engraving shows the Supreme Court of 1888 hearing oral arguments. At this time, it met in a smaller room in the Capitol building. (AP)

When the Supreme Court was founded, it met in the Philadelphia city hall for nine years before the capital was moved to Washington, D.C.

When the Supreme Court was founded, it met in the Philadelphia city hall for nine years before the capital was moved to Washington, D.C.

A statue of Chief Justice John Marshall sits in the lower level of the Supreme Court. (SCOTUS)

A statue of Chief Justice John Marshall sits in the lower level of the Supreme Court. (SCOTUS)

The Royal Exchange building was the first meeting place of the Supreme Court.

The Royal Exchange building was the first meeting place of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court moved into its own building in 1935.

The Supreme Court moved into its own building in 1935.

The First Court Still Sitting

Posted: July 1, 2020

Did the Supreme Court justices wear black robes while they held court over the phone? That might have helped them to remember how serious their work is.

The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation. It is the only court established by the Constitution. All other U.S. courts are to follow its decisions.

The Supreme Court has one Chief Justice (John Roberts). It has eight Associate Justices. All serve for life, unless they want to retire earlier. The President nominates new justices. The Senate approves the appointments.

Today’s court has changed little from the first Supreme Court that met in 1790. Some call today’s court “the first Court still sitting” because so many traditions continue.

The Marshal still announces the Justices at 10:00 a.m. A gavel sounds. Everyone rises and remains standing until the Justices sit.

Chief Justice Roberts sits in the center chair. The senior (longest serving) Associate Justice sits to his right. The second senior is at his left. The others alternate right and left by seniority (length of time each has served).

John Jay was the first Chief Justice. He and the other judges often wore black robes with brightly colored facings. But Justices since 1800 have worn all-black robes while in Court. Lawyers once wore black “morning coats.” Today black suits are out. Lawyers may wear white dress shirts and neutral ties beneath gray or navy suits.

Every Justice shakes hands with the other eight before entering the court each day. This is to remind all that they will have differences of opinion. But these will not disrupt the ultimate purpose of their work. After all, the words “Equal Justice Under Law,” are etched in stone above the main entrance to the Supreme Court Building. Serious decisions are made there.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? — Micah 6:8