Tour of the Supreme Court - (Text only version)

The Connecticut Supreme Court is located at 231 Capitol Avenue in Hartford. Ground breaking ceremonies for construction of the building occurred in 1908, with the building officially opening November 1910. It houses the Museum of Connecticut History and the State Library along with the state’s highest court.

Just before entering the court is a portrait of the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Stephen Mix Mitchell of Wethersfield.

Over the entrance to the courtroom is a balcony of carved oak, which is entered from the gallery of the second floor. Above the balcony is a window affording a magnificent view of the barrel vaulted ceiling of the building’s lobby.

The wood paneling in the courtroom comes from the white oak tree – the official tree of Connecticut. Carved into the paneling are thirty-four reproductions of the state seal.

The state seal also is imprinted on the carpet, containing the motto, in Latin, --"Qui Transtulit Sustinet" –, which translates to, "He who transplanted still sustains." There are three (3) grapevines on the seal, representing the first three towns founded in Connecticut, Windsor, Wethersfield and Hartford. The state seal, or parts of it, decorate almost everything in the courtroom. The vine and leaves motif even is carved on the back of every chair.

The walls above the wood paneling are of artificial Caenstone and studding them at regular intervals are twelve gold wall lamps. Above the lamps are portraits of retired Chief Justices.

Heavy molding and gilding are carried on in the ceiling. The ceiling comprises one long panel and three similar panels on the north and south sides and one on the end. From the smaller panels hang seven heavy gold chandeliers.

Two of the most beautiful aspects of the courtroom are the murals gracing the ceiling and the back wall. Both paintings are the works of Albert Herter, whose works also can be seen in the Wisconsin State Capitol and the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

The murals were painted in Herter’s studio on Long Island, transported to Hartford and placed in the building in 1913. They are painted on canvas and are fixed to the ceiling and to the wall by white lead.

The ceiling mural is entitled "An Allegory of Education." The central figure teaches the child beside her from the "book of knowledge," and is attended by guardian figures of "progress" and "wisdom." The "light of education" is passed down into the darkness by youths holding torches. Below, figures representing "ignorance" and "Superstition," overcome by the light, are falling through the night sky.

The mural behind the bench shows the signing of the "Fundamental Orders 1638-1639," which led to Connecticut’s first written Constitution. It also was the world’s first written constitution for creating a government and served as the prototype for the U.S. Constitution.

Thus, Connecticut is known as the "Constitution State." Democracy may not have been born in Connecticut, but an essential element was.

Thomas Hooker, Roger Ludlowe, John Haynes and others composed the Fundamental Orders in Hartford during the fierce winter of 1638-1639.

Hooker is shown standing and addressing those assembled. He would become known as one of the founders of Connecticut. He was an eminent theologian, scholar and preacher whose sermon on self-government provided the impetus for the Fundamental Orders, adopted in January 1639.

Roger Ludlowe was the group’s secretary. He is shown seated at the table. Many historians believe Ludlowe actually wrote the Fundamental Orders since he was the only trained lawyer living in the colony at the time. John Haynes is standing in the back with a copy of the orders in his hand. Haynes would become the first governor of Connecticut.

At the very top of the painting is the shield of England, Connecticut (as Hartford was first known). In the corners of the mural are the shields for the "New Connecticut." Artist Albert Herter created both murals to be placed in the courtroom to deliver a succinct message: take the two paintings together and they show that the court makes its decisions based on the law and on knowledge…gained through education.

The bench upon which Supreme Court Justices sit is at the back of the courtroom, and is made of the same oak that panels the courtroom. The black robbed jurists arrive through a door behind the bench. On the right and left of the doorway are two flags – The U.S. Flag and the State Flag.

Appearing on the backs of the chairs in which the Supreme Court Justices sit is the Seal of the State, along with the initials SC.

The books located in front of the bench and on the back wall of the courtroom offer rich pieces of judicial history. The gold bound books include summaries of every appeal heard before the Supreme Court from 1785 through the present. There are blue books that contain public and special acts passed by the General Assembly, and more blue books that are State Registers and Manuals. During an oral argument one of the justices, or one of the participating attorneys, may search out one of the books for background material.

In the center of the courtroom is a podium at which attorneys stand and argue before the Justice. There are seats to the left and the right of the podium for attorneys representing both sides in the oral arguments.

The railing in the middle of the room divides it into two parts. In front of the railing sit the people connected with the case and court staff. Behind the railing are chairs for the public. All hearings are public -- anyone can come and watch when the court is in session.

Key court personnel are along the wall to the side of the bench. Seated at a table just inside the railing is a court reporter assigned to record the oral arguments on a cassette player. To the official’s left is a table at which the Judicial Marshal sits. The Marshal pounds the gavel to start the day’s proceedings, and is in charge of keeping order in the court. To the Marshal’s left are two tables – one for the Supreme Court Clerk, and a second table for a court messenger who is available for the justices and attorneys should they require any assistance before, during or after the proceedings.

A doorway is located to the right of the Marshal that leads to the Attorney Conference Room where those arguing appeals can gather before their oral argument session starts.

The External Affairs Division of the Connecticut Judicial Branch welcomes tour groups Monday through Friday. Please call External Affairs at (860) 757-2270 or via e-mail at external.affairs@jud.ct.gov to arrange a tour. Please provide information about anyone in the tour group who may require special accommodations.

 

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