Teachers, students, and visitors of all ages are invited to visit the historic John Adams Courthouse, headquarters of the Massachusetts judicial branch. Conveniently located on Pemberton Square between the Massachusetts State House and Government Center, the John Adams Courthouse houses the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the Massachusetts Appeals Court, and the Social Law Library, the nation's oldest law library. The John Adams Courthouse is generally open for visitors on normal business days, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Court sessions are open to the public.
In keeping with John Adams's passion for justice, community and learning, the John Adams Courthouse offers a variety of free educational opportunities for educators and students to learn about the judicial branch of government, John Adams and the Massachusetts Constitution, legal history, and the historic preservation of a stunning 19th century courthouse. Educational exhibits and meeting areas are available in the courthouse. Group tours, historical theatrical performances, observations of court sessions, and meetings with judges, lawyers, and court officials can be arranged in advance.
Some field trip opportunities and ideas are presented below. Several of these suggestions take advantage of the courthouse's immediate proximity to the Massachusetts State House, the Suffolk County Courthouse in Pemberton Square, and the Freedom Trail (the Freedom Trail can give students a broad view of colonial Boston and how the colony's struggles with Great Britain led directly to the drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution).
The John Adams Courthouse offers free, guided tours for student groups. Tours generally take about one hour, and include visits to the modern courtroom where the Supreme Judicial Court Justices hear oral arguments and the historic courtroom where Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once presided.
The courthouse contains two educational exhibits: John Adams: Architect of American Government (this exhibit focuses on the drafting of the influential Massachusetts Constitution) and Sacco and Vanzetti: Justice on Trial (this exhibit focuses on the history and legacy of this infamous case from the 1920s).
It is generally possible to arrange for students to meet with a Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court or Appeals Court. To arrange a tour please contact Pam Lyons at Pamela.Lyons@sjc.state.ma.us. You can also fill out a tour request form and email it to TourRequests@sjc.state.ma.us.
Historical Theatrical Performances
Theatre Espresso occasionally performs original, historic, and interactive dramatic productions at the John Adams Courthouse. Offered plays include: Secret Soldiers: Women who Fought in the Civil War (premiering in fall 2013); Uprising on King Street: The Boston Massacre; The Nine Who Dared; and The Trial of Anthony Burns. For more information, please contact Theatre Espresso by email at info@TheatreEspresso.org or by phone at 617-413-1771.
To pair a tour of the John Adams Courthouse with a theatrical performance, please contact Pam Lyons at Pamela.Lyons@sjc.state.ma.us, or fill out a tour request form and email it to TourRequests@sjc.state.ma.us.
The Supreme Judicial Court hears oral arguments the first full week of every month from September through May from 9:00 a.m. to approximately 1:00 p.m. Single Justice sessions are held throughout the year at scheduled times. The Appeals Court, which sits in three-justice panels, also hears oral arguments throughout the year at scheduled times. Oral arguments for each case generally take about one half hour (fifteen minutes per side). The court schedules and lists of cases can be found at www.ma-appellatecourts.org . The Justices issue written opinions (decisions) several weeks or months following oral arguments. Court opinions can be found on the Reporter of Decisions page .
Students of all ages are welcome to attend court sessions, which are open to the public, at anytime, but teachers with more than ten students are requested to make advance arrangements by contacting Pam Lyons at Pamela.Lyons@sjc.state.ma.us. Teachers may also want to request a speaker (judge, lawyer, or court official) to meet with a class before or after a court sitting. These requests should be made several weeks before the scheduled visit. All arguments before the Supreme Judicial Court are also broadcast over the Internet.
A field trip might also include a visit to both the John Adams Courthouse and the Suffolk County Courthouse located next door at Three Pemberton Square. After learning about the judicial system at the John Adams Courthouse, students may observe a Superior Court trial. With rare exceptions (e.g. certain juvenile proceedings), all trials - civil and criminal, jury and non-jury, are open to the public. Please contact Pam Lyons at Pamela.Lyons@sjc.state.ma.us to make advance arrangements.
Group tours of the courthouse can also be arranged in conjunction with a visit to view court sessions.
Legal History Displays
Legal history displays are located in two exhibits rooms in the Great Hall of the John Adams Courthouse. The current exhibits are entitled "John Adams: Architect of American Government" and "Sacco and Vanzetti: Justice on Trial". These displays are open to the public during normal business hours (Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and are included in the public tours.
Three Branches of Government Field Trip
Teachers may want to teach students about the interactions among the three branches of government and other civics lessons by combining a trip to the John Adams Courthouse to learn about the judicial system with a visit to the adjacent State House to view the legislative and executive branches in action. To arrange a visit to the State House, contact the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Office of State House Tours Division, at 617-727-3676. The office can also assist in contacting local legislators.