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Friday, May 08, 2020

Domestic Life and the Supreme Court

Much is being made of the fact that you could hear somebody flush a toilet during one of the Supreme Court's telephone arguments this week. Oh no! What about the mystique of the Court? Not letting sunlight in upon magic, and so forth?

These concerns bring to mind a story that I recount in my forthcoming book. The British burned down the Capitol during the War of 1812. At that time, the Court met in the Capitol. Afterwards, Chief Justice Marshall wrote Bushrod Washington a letter essentially saying "Where are we going to meet? You have to figure this out." 

The Court ended up meeting for the next two years in a private house (owned by the Court's Clerk) on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Justices heard argument in the front parlor, and spectators either crammed into the room or tried to listen through the windows. The Clerk had eight children, who would play and make lots of noise during the sessions, when they weren't running into the room and then being told something like "Shoosh--the Supreme Court is in session." Flush toilets had not yet been invented for widespread use. But if they had been, people would have heard plenty of flushes during these sessions.

Some observers in 1815 and 1816 said that the whole scene was undignified. Yet the Republic survived.

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on May 8, 2020 at 07:36 AM | Permalink



Posted by: Ashima Gupta | Feb 5, 2021 4:19:40 AM

This is a great little story! Always fun to see how history may not repeat itself, but it does seem to rhyme a lot.

Posted by: Dan Ziebarth | May 9, 2020 12:40:56 AM

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