Wednesday, May 19, 2010
In its first ten years inside the Capitol, the Court bounced around from location to location – from various committee rooms to library rooms to whatever was available. Then, in 1810, when the Senate left its original chamber and moved directly upstairs to what is now called the Old Senate Chamber, the Supreme Court inherited the vacated downstairs Senate chamber. early city plan for washington, d. c.
It was in that room – the basement of the Old Senate Chamber – that the Supreme Court found its first permanent home and the location that it kept for the next 50 years. Then, when the Senate vacated its second home in the Old Senate Chamber and moved into its third and current home, the Supreme Court moved upstairs to possess the again vacated Senate Chamber.
David Barton explains that the Supreme Court had no building of its own was intentional; it reflected the Founders’ design that the Court should have no major role in shaping policy in the nation. Simply look at the Constitution for proof: Article I deals with the powers of the Congress; Article II with the powers of the President, and Article III with the powers of the Supreme Court. Article I is by far the longest of those three articles, and Article III is obviously the shortest.
Even though the Founders believed that a Supreme Court was important, it was so insignificant in the overall view of government, that John Jay, the original Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, retired from his position after only six years because, as he observed, the Supreme Court would never amount to anything much. 79 In fact, for the first 10 years of its existence, the entire Supreme Court term lasted less than two weeks each year; and for the next fifty years, the Court still met for only six to eight weeks a year. 80
It was not until 1935 – nearly a century-and-a-half after the Founders had written the Constitution – that a separate building was built behind the Capitol to house the Supreme Court, the home it occupies today. And it was not until two decades after this, in the late 1950s, that the Supreme Court, under the guidance of its activist Chief Justice, Earl Warren, first began to meet for nearly nine months 81 out of each year – a practice which still continues today.