USAGov’s Top 10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About the Supreme Court

March 24, 2017

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is one of the most important and powerful institutions in the country. Its decisions affect the life of every American, yet beyond some landmark cases and the names of the justices, it’s not as well known as the other branches of government. Brush up on your Supreme Court trivia with USAGov’s 10 things you probably didn’t know about SCOTUS:

  1. The first Supreme Court session was in NYC. The Supreme Court met for the first time in New York City, then the capital of the U.S., on February 1, 1790. But when only three justices showed up and they needed a quorum of six, they had to delay the official opening until the next day, February 2.
  2. The Supreme Court used to meet in the U.S. Capitol building. When the nation’s capital moved to Washington, DC, SCOTUS and Congress shared the U.S. Capitol building. It was supposed to be just temporary, but for more than 100 years, justices met in various chambers and committee rooms until the Supreme Court building was completed in 1935.
  3. Anyone can be a justice. Technically, there are no requirements for being a Supreme Court justice. Justices have ranged in age from 32 years old to 68. They don’t have to be born in the U.S. either. Six justices have served on the court despite being born outside the U.S. And there is no law requiring all nominees to be lawyers, however every justice has been trained in the law.
  4. The SCOTUS courtroom features Napoleon, Muhammad, and Moses. The friezes on the courtroom’s north and south walls feature the “greatest lawgivers of history.” Architect Adolph A. Weinman wanted to display some of the subjects and figures that best reflected the function of the Supreme Court building.
  5. From POTUS to SCOTUS? William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the U.S. made history in 1921 when he became the first commander in chief to join the Supreme Court. Taft became the 10th chief justice of the United States and remained in the role until 1930.
  6. The court doesn't see a lot of cases. SCOTUS receives between 7,000 and 8,000 requests for case reviews each year, and grants 70-80 for oral argument. Other requests are granted and decided without argument.
  7. Justices can serve a long time. The appointment is for life, however, justices serve an average of 16 years. They can also resign or retire from the court when they want.
  8. There’s not a lot of time to argue. Lawyers usually get just 30 minutes to present their argument to the justices. Once both sides are heard, the justices begin working on their opinions and take a vote before handing down the court’s decision.
  9. Rulings can take a while. Unlike courtroom TV shows where judges announce their ruling immediately, SCOTUS’ decisions can take up to nine months.
  10. The tomato is a veggie, says SCOTUS. In 1893, the court ruled that tomatoes were a vegetable, despite being referred to as the “fruit of the vine.” The case involved taxes on vegetables and the court unanimously declared the tomato a vegetable for taxing purposes.

Interested in learning more or teaching kids about the Supreme Court? Check out Kids.gov’s free “How the Supreme Court Works” infographic.

En español. 

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