Select Page

Located at One First Street in Washington, D.C., is the Supreme Court Building. Nine justices, appointed by the President and confirmed by Senate, convene here to decide the highest-intensity cases in the United States. The group can be quite mysterious, so here are some little-known facts about the Supreme Court.

There is no requirement for the number of justices

There is no Constitutional requirement for the Supreme Court to have a specific number of justices. In fact, when gathering justices for the first iteration of the Supreme Court, President George Washington only appointed six individuals. According to FindLaw contributor Casey Sullivan, Esq., only three of those six were present in New York when the group first convened.

The number has since fluctuated, typically between seven and nine justices at a time, with the highest number being 10. It’s easy to see why odd numbers are so appealing—instead of being caught at a stand-still, the Supreme Court can make majority decisions.

The Supreme Court was homeless for some time

Although the Supreme Court was established in 1789, it took well over a century for the group to have its own building. Prior to 1935, Supreme Court justices convened in taverns and backrooms, sometimes even “riding the circuit” to hear cases in their states of origin. In the post-Civil War era, the justices mainly convened in the Old Senate Chamber, which today serves as an example of architectural history. Nowadays, the aptly-named Supreme Court Building houses the justices, a permanent home for almost a century.

Only one president served as a justice

Out of 45 U.S. Presidents, only one sat on the Supreme Court. William Howard Taft, who served at the 27th president of the United States from 1909 to 1913, spent nine years on the Supreme Court as the tenth justice. Having served as a law professor at Yale University after his presidency, Taft was well-equipped to move to the Supreme Court. Thanks to an appointment by then-president Warren G. Harding, Taft was able to spend the last decade of his life as a practitioner of law—a long-time dream of his.

“Lifetime appointment” isn’t quite accurate

The phrase “lifetime appointment” makes it sound like justices must serve the Court until the day they die. However, this is an extreme interpretation of the phrase. While some justices certainly take it to heart, less than half of justices have passed away during their tenures. Only 50 have died in office, most recently Justice Antonin Scalia. In addition, it’s possible for justices to be removed from their positions. However, this has happened just once—to Justice John Rutledge, second Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.