The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the first day of its September session in the historic Supreme Court Chamber in Old City Hall in Independence National Historical Park. This historic event was part of the park’s commemoration of Constitution Week, which occurred the week before last.
By hearing cases in this historic courtroom, the court made the site come alive with current meaning and connected the past with today for visitors and participants. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court sat in the courtroom in the building now called Old City Hall between the years of 1791 and 1802. The U.S. Supreme Court also sat here from 1791 to 1800, while Philadelphia was the new nation’s capital. In 1800, the U.S. Supreme Court moved to Washington, D.C., and in 1802, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court moved back into the courtroom in the old State House, what is now Independence Hall.
Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod greeted the Justices, saying that their presence in this historic site was helping the park bridge the gap between history and present day. “I appreciate the spirit in which you come here today, bringing history to life for our visitors and court observers.”
MacLeod’s welcome was followed by a short interpretive talk by ranger Steve Medeiros, who emphasized that in the 18th Century both the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court brought the law to the people of the new nation not only by allowing the public to sit in on hearings, as they are today, but also by riding the circuit.
Chief Justice Castille noted the historic significance of allowing cameras into a session of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“It seems fitting that our historic first televised session will take place in one of our nation’s most historic sites – the birthplace of independence,” Castille said. “My colleagues and I thank Justice Seamus McCaffery who presented us with the idea of hearing arguments in Independence Hall in honor of national Constitution Week, and the Court expresses its appreciation to the National Park Service for making this historic session in Old City Hall a reality.”
Members of the public were invited to watch the proceedings and an agreement between the Court and the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) allowed gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments. PCN aired the historic Old City Hall session on the evening of September 13th.