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.

John Jay has been called the "father of American conservatism" and rightly so. His commitment to the rule of law and American constitutionalism was fundamentally informed by the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures as well as classical and medieval thought and the British system of law. As a man of the bar and bench he ranks high in the pantheon of in Anglo-American jurisprudence. Author (with Madison and Hamilton) of The Federalist Papers, Jay was President Washington's first choice for Chief Justice of the United States as well as President Adams's. I delightfully applaud the vision and work of the John Jay Institute for Faith, Society & Law in perpetuating the high constitutional principles and lasting legacy of their namesake among the future leaders of our great county."
The Honorable Kenneth W. Starr
Former Solicitor General of the United States
President, Baylor University