By Jocelyn Durkay

NCSL’s Fall Forum began with style—in particular, the mosaic tile and vaulted ceiling type of style—as attendees had the opportunity to tour the Library of Congress and attend a Supreme Court lecture. Legislative staff and several NCSL Foundation members left the Fall Forum Welcome Lunch early to take a bus across town to the Library of Congress. Tour attendees spanned a large network of states from Utah to Louisiana, Alaska to Indiana.

Library of Congress tourThe Library of Congress was established in 1800, when President John Adams designated Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital. Its first home was in the Capitol building. After the Capitol was burned by British troops in 1814, Thomas Jefferson’s personal library provided the first substantial addition to the new library. His wide-ranging collection included literature, science, philosophy and books in foreign languages. This diversity helped inspire the current collection of the Library of Congress: all copyright applicants must submit two copies of their work to the Library. This influx of books resulted in the current iteration of the Library: the Thomas Jefferson Building, completed in 1897. The Jefferson Building was also the first building in Washington, D.C., constructed with electricity installed.

We met our particularly enthusiastic, energetic and knowledgeable tour guide in the Thomas Jefferson Building to begin the tour. The tour focused primarily on the art and architecture of the building, which includes themes such as learning, art and science and the history of the book. Our tour included the handwritten Giant Bible of Mainz and the printed Gutenberg Bible, as well as the central door’s entryway carving featuring the printing press. After a brief break, where one of our attendees was able to get himself a free library card, we headed down the street to the Supreme Court.

Our visit to the Supreme Court of the United States began with a Q and A session with a case analyst for the court. Case analysts review applications submitted for review by the court to determine if the case content falls under the jurisdiction of the court and that proper materials are submitted. If these requirements are met, the case is passed to the justices to determine if they will grant a hearing. We then attended an afternoon lecture in the courtroom that covered a wide range of matters related to the court: traditions, seating, courtroom procedure, architecture and oral argument procedures. Our Georgia legislative staff attendee was very pleased to learn that the building was constructed with marble quarried from Georgia, Alabama and Vermont. We also learned that the only recording device allowed in the courtroom is a transcribing machine that has been functioning since the 1950s (audio recordings and transcripts are available online)! Our visit concluded with a chance to explore the museum below the court.

Jocelyn Durkay is a research analyst with NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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