Old Cap Tour - Supreme Court
Panoramic Watering Jug and Cup

Supreme Court: The Benchmark for Justice


The Verdict: Legal decisions made in this Supreme Court chamber formed the foundation for Iowa's laws.

During Iowa's early days as a territory and state, the Iowa Supreme Court judged all trials at the state level. Three judges sat behind the long, raised bench. Facing it were two desks: one for the prosecuting lawyers, and the other for the defense. Spectators watched the trials from the rows of benches.

Charles Mason was chief justice of the territorial Supreme Court from 1838-1846 and then appointed as first chief justice of the State Supreme Court in 1847. Mason wrote the first opinion (or judgment) of the court in 1839, while Iowa was still a territory.

In 1849, the Supreme Court chamber also became the home of the United States district court for the western region. It served as both district and state courts during the 1850s.

After the court moved to Des Moines, two Iowa judges, George G. Wright and C.C. Cole, established the first law school west of the Mississippi. This school transferred to Old Capitol to become the University of Iowa law department in 1868.

From 1859-1862, this room housed the State Historical Society. After the 1920s rehabilitation the room was used as classroom and office space. In 1972 the Iowa Supreme Court held trial here in conjunction with the University of Iowa Student Bar Association's annual Supreme Court Day. In 1996, the Old Capitol Museum celebrated 150 years of Iowa statehood by reenacting early Iowa court cases in this room.

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Old Capitol Museum
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