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.

As to the position that ‘the people always mean well,’ or, in other words, that they always mean to say and do what they believe to be right and just, -- it may be popular, but it cannot be true. The word people … applies to all the individual inhabitants of a country…. That portion of them who individually mean well never was, nor until the millennium will be considerable."
John Jay, Letter to Judge Peters, March 14, 1815