Like George Washington with the Executive branch, the Supreme Court had to establish its role in the new United States, plus figure out the rights and relationships established by the Constitution. Many of its early cases dealt with the relationship between the new federal government and the states – and these early decisions took place in this room in Philadelphia, where the court met from 1791-1800.

Originally built in 1791 as Philadelphia’s City Hall, it was home to the Mayor’s office and Mayor’s Court. When not otherwise in use, the court chamber was used by the new nation’s Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the only court established by the Constitution, and was founded in 1789 with 6 justices appointed by George Washington. However, life of the justices was much different back then. The judges only met together twice a year in August and February. The rest of their time was spent “riding the circuit” – traveling the country to preside over the three circuit courts established by congress. Travel was difficult, and one justice, James Wilson, died of malaria while on circuit duty in North Carolina.

The first Chief Justice, John Jay (co-author of the Federalist Papers), sat in the central chair, with the other justices around him and the lawyers in front. Today’s chamber is set up as a combination of the Supreme Court and the municipal court (which would have used the box and jury seating), which met here until 1854.

Check the park service’s website to confirm opening times. You do not need to go through the Independence Hall security point to visit the chamber.