This post covers how to attend a U.S. Supreme Court tour as well as courtroom lectures and oral arguments with tips on how to plan your visit and what you might see.
The Supreme Court Building is at 1 First Street St NE across the street from the US Capitol Building and the Library of Congress. It is a 7 min walk from the Capitol South Station Metro (Blue, Orange, Silver). Exit the station and continue north on First Street for two blocks.
It is also about a 15-minute walk from Union Station (Red), which has a paid parking garage. Use this link for directions to the Supreme Court. There are no parking facilities at the building. Street parking is very limited. You can reserve a space at nearby commercial garages through a service called Parking Panda.
Supreme Court Hours:
The Supreme Court is open on weekdays 9am-430pm, excluding Federal Holidays. The building is not open on the weekend.
Like most federal buildings, you will be required to enter through security. There are two doors on either side of the main steps on the plaza level to enter the building. Prohibited items include weapons and other dangerous items.
The Supreme Court currently does not offer guided tours, and according to its website, visitors are encouraged to tour the building on their own. In reality, visitors are limited to only the public portions of the building, which is mostly the exhibits on the ground floor as well as the Main Hall on the 2nd floor. There are several opportunities to visit the main courtroom (see below sections on attending a court lecture or to hear a case).
Once you get through security, you will be on the ground floor, where you will find a 24-minute film that covers the history of the building, with interviews with the Chief Justice as well as Associate and former Justices.
It’s on this floor where you will also find the current exhibitions.
Since this is a working federal building, you are limited as to where you can go on your self-guided tour. The only way to visit the courtroom is by attending a docent lecture or attending a case. You can read about attending a case below but if you are visiting on a day that the court is not hearing a case, you can still have a seat in the courtroom and listen to the history of the court and the building.
30-minute Courtroom Lectures are held every hour on the half hour from 9:30 am – 3:30 pm. Seating is first-come, first-served, so during the busy spring and summer months, expect to get their early to wait in line.
For the most up to date information on when lectures are scheduled, visit the Lecture Calendar.
While you can visit the Supreme Court courtroom as a visitor for lectures, cases are also open to the public. Called Oral Arguments, these are the 1 hour long sessions where each side is allowed 30 minutes to argue before the court.
From the first Monday to October to Mid-April, cases are generally heard on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10 am and 11 am, with additional afternoon sessions as needed.
There are two ways to attend a Supreme Court case. You could either secure a seat and witness the entire Oral Arguments or you can catch a quick 3 min glimpse of the proceedings. These two lines form on the plaza before each case. For landmark Supreme Court case, some people will line up days in advance to guarantee a spot. On a non-high-profile day, people arrive around 6 am-7 am. Normally, only the first 50 are able to get in. Numbered tickets are given out prior to seating to allow you time to go to restroom, cafeteria and cloakroom.
If you don’t get a seat, you can also do a walk through where you stay for a few minutes and then move on. You can rotate through as many times as you’d like by getting back in line.
You can also attend Bench Mondays (Mondays, 10 am, mid-May through June) to hear the court opinions and decisions. These are about 15 – 30 minutes long, but can also form long lines for high profile cases.
To see what cases are being argued, visit the Argument Calendar.
Why not make a half-day of it and visit both the U.S. Capitol Building as well as the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Both are adjacent to the Supreme Court Building. You could also have lunch at the Capitol Visitor Center. For more information on visiting and touring both buildings, click on the links below.