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Supreme Court Historical Society


The Supreme Court Historical Society (the Society) is a nonprofit organization incorporated in the District of Columbia. It is dedicated to expanding public awareness of the history and heritage of the supreme court of the united states and to preserving historical documents and artifacts relating to the Court's history. The Society conducts public and educational programs, publishes books and periodicals, supports historical research, and collects antiques and period pieces to enhance an appreciation of the history behind the U.S. Constitution and its first interpreters. It supports its programs through member contributions, grants, gifts, and a small endowment. The Society is located in the Opperman House on East Capitol Street in Washington, D.C. It also maintains its own website located at <>.

Founded in 1974 by the late Chief Justice warren e. burger, the Society has approximately 6,000 individual members who volunteer services on its standing and ad hoc committees; the committees report to an elected Board of Trustees. The Chief Justice of the United States serves as Honorary Chairman of the Society. Former Chief Justice Burger served as the Society's first chairman. Retired Associate Justice byron r. white is an honorary member of the Board of Trustees.

The Society's most ambitious historic project to date has been the research and publication of the first six volumes of the Documentary History of the Supreme Court, 1789 to 1800. This series is projected to require at least two more volumes and represents the reconstruction of an accurate record of the development of the federal judiciary in the formative decade between 1789 and 1800. The series has been published by the Columbia University Press. Another scholarly publication is the Society's Supreme Court of the United States 1789–1990: An Index to Opinions Arranged by Justice, which is updated periodically. The three-volume publication is the only printed resource of all the opinions of each justice and thus provides easy reference to each individual's contribution to the United States Reports, the official record of the Court's opinions. Additionally, a pilot program of oral recorded histories, documenting the careers and service of retired Supreme Court Justices, has been in progress. Thus far, the Society has completed oral histories of the late Associate Justices harry blackmun, william j. brennan jr., thurgood marshall, and louis f. powell.

Semi-annually, the Society publishes the Journal of Supreme Court History, which features articles by the justices, noted academicians, solicitors general, and other noted contributors. Special topic publications by the Society include The Supreme Court in the Civil War, The Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court Revisited: Brandeis to Fortas, and The Supreme Court in World War II. The Society's quarterly newsletter for its members contains short historical articles and news of programs and activities.

For the general public, the Society co-publishes an ongoing illustrated history of the Court, Equal Justice Under Law, in conjunction with the National Geographic Society. In cooperation with Congressional Quarterly, Inc., the Society published The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995, a collection of biographies of 108 current and former justices.

Another important part of the Society's activities is its co-sponsorship of the National Heritage Lecture, rotating the hosting of the annual event with the White House Historical Association and the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. Along with Street Law, Inc., it also conducts the Supreme Court Summer Institute, a program for secondary school teachers to help them develop in their students an awareness of their rights and duties as citizens. It has developed a special "landmark cases" volume as an education tool for teachers, that provides extensive information on some of the Court's most important cases, many of which have been included in states' standards for teaching history and government. In 2000 the Society launched a special initiative for high school teachers in the Washington, D.C., public schools.

Finally, the Society conducts an acquisition program, working closely with the Court Curator's office, to locate, acquire, and display the Court's permanent collection of busts and portraits of justices, as well as period furnishings, original documents, and private papers, and other artifacts relating to the Court and its history. Many of these items are on display or otherwise made available for the benefit of the Court's one million annual visitors.

further readings

U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society website. Available online at <> (accessed February 1, 2004).

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