Washington DC: The Supreme Court of the United States


On the third day in Washington DC, we woke up later than usual. We only had a few places to cover for the day which is good since we had walked so much the day prior covering the monuments and museums the past two days.

Also, we were beginning to get over the 3 hour difference jetlag. So when I said we woke up later as usual at 8 AM … he he he … it is 5 AM in the west coast.

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The Supreme Court of the United States is the least visible of the three branches of the US government but is as equally as important to uphold the justice system. It is the highest judicial body of the US and performs as a check and balance against the legislative and executive branches.

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The Supreme Court building is located “behind” the US Capitol. It is symbolic in that it overlooks the interpretation of the law. There were not many tourists here. We were initially unsure if it was opened to the public but it was.

Slightly off topic … when I first had to decide on a career way back when I was in school, I was told that if I chose accountancy and finance, I would have the best chance to raise to the top of the corporate ladder.

So, after a few days here in Washington DC, I am beginning to think that if one aspires to be a country’s leader, the course to take is law. After all, everything about the administrative of the country revolves around law.

So then … here is my simpleton theory … if you want to serve on the private sector, study finance … if you want to serve in the public sector, study law. Silly me … I choose IT.

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Both the exterior and interior is lined with fine marble. It does feel cold here which is a welcome change. I am not sure why, but everyone moves about here in silence. I mean, I see everyone whispering, tourists and people who works here alike.

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We love everything about the Supreme Court building … even the lifts are so old fashion (note the floor indicator at the top of the elevator door).

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There are two theaters in the Supreme Court. This is an excellent place to start the visit as they have a 15 minute show about the workings Supreme Court and the building. They also have free guided tours if you care to join it.

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Here is a bit of what we’ve learned here. The Supreme Court of the US consists of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. These justices are all nominated by the President of the US and serve in this position for life.

The above statue is that of John Marshall and is located right in the middle of the lobby of the exhibit area. He is undoubtedly the most famous of all Chief Justices and had single handedly elevated the Supreme Court to the level of power as the US Capitol and the White House.

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John Marshall presided over the Marbury and Madison case which is so important to define the powers of the Supreme Court. In Marbury and Madison, he determined that the Supreme Court is the absolute judge of the Constitution, i.e. that the Supreme Court has the power to declare laws made by the legislative as unconstitutional. This is perhaps the most important case that determines the much established checks and balances that is so admired in the US government.

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The Courtroom was closed for renovation when we were there. They were trying to modernize the Courtroom.

More trivias … did you know that the group of 9 Supreme Court Justices are handed 7000 cases every year? It is impossible for them to hear every single one of them and selects only about 100 important ones to consider each year. And they meet in Conferences … just the nine of them … without any assistants, etc. They lock themselves in these Conferences to decide which cases they want to take on.

And they also have a seniority rankings among the justices and a lot of tasks are allocated based on their seniority. For instance, when it comes to voting, the most senior will vote first. When it comes to speaking, the most senior gets to speak first. Now … when it comes to opening the door to the locked Conferences, the most junior Justice has the honor. Rumor had it that the most junior Justice also has the honor to make coffee!!

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The Supreme Court is actually an appeal court, i.e. if you don’t agree with the rulings of the lower courts, you bring it to the Supreme Court to make a final-final decision. Obviously, some people do not agree with the rulings.

Outside the steps of the Supreme Court, we saw two separate peaceful protest. One was a group of young people standing with their hands in their pockets and a red Pro-Life sticker over their mouth. I am not an expert on these but they do seem like they are protesting the Roe vs Wade case decided way back in the 1970s. There was also a man who seems to have lost the custody of his child in his separation with his wife … and protesting the the unfairness of the Justice system.

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