Philadelphia Facts: The Old Supreme Court

August 1, 2012

Where did Chief Justice John Jay preside over the U.S. Supreme Court? Answer: Old City Hall at 5th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. From 1791-1800 the Supreme Court was convened in the Metropolis of America's founding while the new Federal City was being built on the banks of the Potomac River. To accommodate the Court, Philadelphia shared its City Hall on the east flank of the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall). Initially the Supreme Court was comprised of Chief Justice Jay and five Associate Justices, the finest legal minds in America, but the Court enjoyed neither the prestige nor the power that it does today. Yet while in Philadelphia the first Court had it's own building, which is more than what awaited it in the Federal City. There it was housed in a basement room of the new Capitol.

It cannot be too strongly impressed on the minds of us all how greatly our individual prosperity depends upon our national prosperity, and how greatly our national prosperity depends on a well organized, vigorous government, ruling by wise and equal laws, faithfully executed; nor is such a government unfriendly to liberty…"
John Jay, Charge to the Grand Jury, April 4, 1790