Supreme Court History

In 1921 William Howard Taft, who had served as the nation’s 27th president, was appointed Chief Justice of the United States. For some time he had an idea of moving the Court into its own building and began pushing the idea as soon as he assumed his new duties. He wrote letters to members of Congress complaining about the inadequacy of the Court’s quarters in the Capitol and pointed out that most lower courts were far better accommodated than the Supreme Court. There were no rooms for lawyers to review their cases or hang their coats. The law library was overflowing with books and most associate justices found it necessary to work from home. He did not tell the politicians that he had informally asked Cass Gilbert, the famous New York architect, to begin studies for a new building. (When president, Taft had appointed Gilbert to the Commission on Fine Arts.) In December 1928, Congress responded to Taft’s initiative by creating the United States Supreme Court Building Commission. Taft was designated chairman and was joined by Associate Justice Willis Van Devanter and the chairmen and ranking members of the Committees on Public Buildings of the House and Senate, and the architect of the Capitol. In April 1929 Gilbert was formally hired by the commission to design the Supreme Court building.