Visit the John Adams Courthouse
For information on visiting the John Adams Courthouse, please call Discovering Justice at 617-748-4185 or the Supreme Judicial Court Public Information Office at 617-557-1114.
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).
In partnership with Discovering Justice, a Boston-based, non-profit educational organization, the John Adams Courthouse offers free tours with trained docents who provide lively narrations of court history, art and architecture, and pertinent information about the judicial system. Tours are currently offered on Mondays and Thursdays and generally take about one hour. Tours include visits to the courtrooms where the Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court Justices hear oral arguments. The Great Hall contains educational exhibits where students can learn about John Adams and the drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution. Students can see the original bench (still in use) in the courtroom where Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Supreme Judicial Court Justices sat more than one hundred years ago.
Tour Request Forms are also available by calling Discovering Justice at 617-748-4185 or the Supreme Judicial Court Public Information Office at 617-557-1114.
Historical Theatrical Performances
Dramatic performances by costumed actors are occasionally performed at the John Adams Courthouse to bring history to life.
A limited number of historical theatrical performances are presented each year by Discovering Justice to elementary, junior high school and high school classes in connection with tours of the courthouse. Performances include one-character plays about important historical figures and "Discovering Justice Through Shakespeare". For information on these historical theatrical performances, contact Discovering Justice at 617-748-4185.
Through grant funding, Theatre Espresso offers performances of "Uprising on King Street: The Boston Massacre," "The Trial of Anthony Burns," and "The Nine Who Dared" to students of City of Boston Public Schools. For more information on these performances, Boston Public School teachers should contact Theatre Espresso. These performances can also be accompanied by a courthouse tour by Discovering Justice docents.
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 at www.massreports.com.
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 calling the Supreme Judicial Court Public Information Office at 617-557-1114. 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 call the Supreme Judicial Court Public Information Office at 617-557-1114 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.