The Supreme Court Tours and Lectures

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.  

 

HOW TO GET TO THE SUPREME COURT

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.

 

How to get to the Supreme Court Building

 

Supreme Court Hours:

The Supreme Court is open on weekdays 9am-430pm, excluding Federal Holidays. The building is not open on the weekend.

Security:

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.

 


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SUPREME COURT TOURS + CURRENT EXHIBITS

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.

  • The Supreme Court Building: America’s Temple of Justice
  • Reading the Law: Legal Education in America
  • Sandra Day O’Connor, First Woman on the Supreme Court
  • The Power of Image: Charles Evans Hughes in Prints, Photographs, and Drawings
  • Capturing Justice: Judicial Portraits by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

 


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HOW TO ATTEND A SUPREME COURT LECTURE

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.


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HOW TO ATTEND A SUPREME COURT ORAL ARGUMENT

supreme court toursWhile 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.
 


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SUPREME COURT JUSTICES

  •  How many justices are on the Supreme Court? There are 9 Supreme Court Justices in total: 8 associate justices and one Chief Justice.
  • How do you become a Supreme Court Justice? There are only two requirements to be a Supreme Court justice. It is not based on age, citizenship or experience. You must be nominated by the President and approved by Senate. It is lifetime appointment that one holds until they retire.
  • Who is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court Chief Justice is a position appointed by the President, so it is not relevant to the length of time they serve on the court. The current Supreme Court Justice is John Roberts.

    supreme court tours

  • Who are the current Supreme Court Justices?
    • Antonin Scalia (serving since 1986)*
  • Justice Scalia died Feb. 13, 2016. His seat will remain vacant until a new justice is nominated by the President and approved by the Senate.
    • Anthony Kennedy (1988)
    • Clarence Thomas (1991)
    • Ruth Bader Ginsberg (1993)
    • Stephen Breyer (1994)
    • John Roberts (2005)
    • Samuel Alito (2006)
    • Sonia Sotomeyer (2009)
    • Elena Kagen (2010)

     

    VISIT THE U.S. CAPITOL BUILDING AND THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

    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.

     

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