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.

The Americans are the first people whom Heaven has favoured with an opportunity of deliberating upon, and choosing the forms of government under which they should live. All other constitutions have derived their existence from violence or accidental circumstances, and are therefore probably more distant from their perfection, which, though beyond our reach, may nevertheless be approached under the guidance of reason and experience."
John Jay, Charge to the Grand Jury, Ulster County, New York, NY 1777