This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
The Supreme Court of the United States is the only court established directly by the Constitution. The justices, as we commonly say, are appointed for life or, in the more exact words of that great instrument, " hold their offices during good behaviour." They are nominated by the President, and appointed by him upon the confirmation of the Senate. The Supreme Court was organized in September, 1789. Of the 108 years of its existence, John Marshall and Roger B. Taney served, as Chief Justices, a combined period of over 64 years, or nearly two-thirds of the life of the Court.
The first Chief Justice resigned in 1794 to become Envoy Extraordinary to England, and six years later, when Governor of New York, declined a reappointment after confirmation, because he was " not perfectly convinced that under a system so defective it would obtain the energy, weight and dignity which were essential to its affording due support to the National Government, nor acquire the public confidence and respect which, as the last resort of the justice of the nation, it should possess." To more fully understand how little attractive, in the eyes of the fathers of the nation, was a seat in this highest court of the judicial branch of the government, we have but to remember also that, prior to 1800, William Cushing, an associate justice, declined an appointment as Chief Justice; that Oliver Ellsworth resigned as Chief Justice to proceed as Minister to France; and that John Rutledge, John Blair, Robert H. Harrison, Thomas Johnson and Alfred Moore all resigned as associate justices—two, Rutledge and Harrison, to become Chief Justices of their respective States of South Carolina and Maryland.
The last sitting of the Supreme Court in Philadelphia was on Friday, August 15, 1800. The next entry in the records of the Court is : "At the Supreme Court of the United States holden in the City of Washington (the same being the seat of the national Government) on the first Monday being the 2d day of February, a.d. 1801, and of our Independence the twenty-fifth." William Cushing was the only justice present and adjourned to the morrow; and then again to the 4th. On that day Samuel Chase and Bushrod Washington appeared, and John Marshall was present to qualify as Chief Justice and take his seat.
The Court now consists of a Chief Justice and eight associate justices. The associate justices receive an annual salary each of $10,000, and the Chief Justice of $10,500. The associate justice who has been longest in service upon this bench sits upon the Chief Justice's right, the next in seniority upon his left, and the others alternate in like manner. The present members of the Court are :
McKenna White Brown Harlan Fuller Brewer Shiras Peckham Holmes.
Each of the justices is robed in a black silk gown. There is some authority to show, however, that, at the earlier sittings of the Court, a tri-colored scarf, probably occasioned by the French craze, was sometimes worn; and in the picture of John Jay on the walls of the robing room, the gown itself has a border of brick-red, the sleeves being almost entirely of that color.
Benjamin Harrison thus comments upon the custom of the Court in wearing gowns : " When the constitutional organization of the Court had been settled and the high duty of selecting the Justices had been performed by Washington, the smaller, but not wholly unimportant, question of a court dress loomed up, and much agitated and divided the minds of our public men. Shall the Justices wear gowns ? And if yea, the gown of the scholar, of the Roman Senator, or of the priest ? Shall they wear the wig of the English Judges ? Jefferson and Hamilton, who had differed so widely in then views as to the frame of the Constitution, were again in opposition upon these questions relating to millinery and hair-dressing. Jefferson was against any needless official apparel, but if the gown was to carry he said : 1 For Heaven's sake discard the monstrous wig which makes the English Judges look like rats peeping through bunches of oakum.' Hamilton was for the English wig with the English gown. Burr was for the English gown, but against the ' inverted wool-sack termed a wig.' The English gown was taken and the wig left, and I am sure that the flowing black silk gown still worn by the Justices helps to preserve in the court room that dignity and sense of solemnity which should always characterize the place of judgment".