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.