Prior to the establishment of the Federal City, the United States government resided briefly in New York City, New York (where the Supreme Court met for the first time, in the Merchants Exchange Building) and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (where the court met in Independence Hall, and later in City Hall).
After the federal government was established in Washington, the court was housed in a small basement room in the United States Capitol. It remained in the Capitol until 1935, with the exception of a period from 1812 to 1817, during which the Court was absent from Washington because of the British invasion of Washington and destruction of the Capitol in the War of 1812.
As the Senate expanded, it progressively outgrew its quarters.
In 1810, the Supreme Court first occupied the Old Supreme Court Chamber. It shared this space "with several other courts, among them the United States Circuit Court and the Orphans' Court of the District of Columbia The Supreme Court moved again in 1860 when the Court moved to the Old Senate Chamber (as it is now known) where it remained until its move to the current Supreme Court building. In 1929, Chief Justice William Howard Taft argued successfully for the Court to have its own headquarters to distance itself from Congress as an independent branch of government.
The Supreme Court building is located at 1 First Street NE (across the street from the Capitol) and was designed by architect Cass Gilbert. It rises four stories (92 feet) above grade. The cornerstone was laid on October 13, 1932 and construction completed in 1935, having cost $9.74 million, $94,000 under budget. "The building was designed on a scale in keeping with the importance and dignity of the Court and the Judiciary as a coequal, independent branch of the United States Government, and as a symbol of 'the national ideal of justice in the highest sphere of activity."
The public façade of the Supreme Court building is made of marble quarried from Vermont, and that of the non-public-facing courtyards, Georgian marble. Most of the interior spaces are lined with Alabama marble, except for the Courtroom itself, which is lined with Spanish Ivory Vein marble. For the Courtroom's 24 columns, "Gilbert felt that only the ivory buff and golden marble from the Montarrenti quarries near Siena, Italy" would suffice. To this end, in May 1933, he petitioned the Italian premier, Benito Mussolini, "to ask his assistance in guaranteeing that the Siena quarries sent nothing inferior to the official sample marble".
Not all the justices were thrilled by the new arrangements, the courtroom in particular. Harlan Fiske Stone complained it was "almost bombastically pretentious...Wholly inappropriate for a quiet group of old boys such as the Supreme Court." Another justice observed that he felt the court would be "nine black beetles in the Temple of Karnak," while still another complained that such pomp and ceremony suggested the Justices ought to enter the courtroom riding on elephants. The New Yorker columnist Howard Brubaker noted at the time of its opening that it had "fine big windows to throw the New Deal out of.
The west façade of the building (essentially, the "front" of the court, being the side which faces the Capitol) bears the motto "Equal Justice Under Law," while the east facade bears the motto "Justice, the Guardian of Liberty."
The building's facilities include:
The Supreme Court building is under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol. In addition, the Supreme Court building maintains its own police force, the Supreme Court Police. Separate from the Capitol Police, the force was created in 1935 to look after the building and its personnel. The Court operates on an annual budget of approximately $15m, and requested a budget of $16.7m for FY2006.
Cass Gilbert's design for the building and its environs included an ambitious beaux-arts styled sculptural program that included a large number and variety of both real and allegorical figures.