TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Andy Bennett on Nov 1, 2012

Journal Issue Date: Nov 2012

Journal Name: November 2012 - Vol. 48, No. 11


Under the 1796 Tennessee Constitution, the state’s highest court had no home. The legislature created the court and determined where it met. A commentator, known only as Madison, observed in the Nashville Whig that the judges were “run from Nashville to Jackson — from Jackson to Centerville — from Centerville to Jonesboro — from Jonesboro to Knoxville, and from Knoxville to Sparta and back to Nashville!” No one “but a post rider,” he claimed, “could be a judge at this rate.” Indeed, in his 1816 resignation letter to Gov. Joseph McMinn, Judge John Overton wrote that he rode about 1,500 miles a year. Madison maintained that the extensive, difficult travel killed Judges John Haywood and Henry Crabb.[1]

The 1834 Tennessee Constitution created the Supreme Court and limited it to meeting in one place per grand division. This probably made access to law books somewhat easier, and it definitely reduced the difficult travel. It gave the judges more time to work and likely encouraged a greater number of able lawyers to seek judgeships and to remain on the court longer.[2]

By 1835 the capital of Tennessee had been located in Nashville for nine years, although the city would not become the permanent capital until 1843. Since 1828 the Supreme Court had been meeting in the second story of the north end of the Nashville Market House, which was located on the western side of the public square. In December 1853 the court began meeting in the still-under-construction state capitol building.[3]

Construction of a New Building

In 1935 the Tennessee Bar Association and Chief Justice Grafton Green began a serious effort to construct a building for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, which had been created to help address the Supreme Court’s caseload. Several reasons justified their interest in the project. First, the space for the courts in the Capitol was limited. At least as early as 1905, the congested state of the Capitol was well known. That year, Gov. James B. Frazier told the legislature that one alternative to provide relief would be to build a place “for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, the Attorney General and the [law] library, and such other offices as it might be thought advisable to remove from the Capitol. If such building should be erected, it should be located on some part of the Capitol Square, and should be in character and architectural beauty in harmony with the Capitol.” Space for the clerk’s office was very small and records had to be stored in the basement of the Memorial Building and the attic of the Capitol. The judges’ offices were located away from the clerk and courtroom in a former home at 405 Seventh Ave., North.[4]

Second, the federal government had recently set a prominent example of a high court departing a capitol for its own home. For over a century, the United States Supreme Court met in the Capitol, first in the Old Supreme Court Chamber and then, beginning in 1860, in the Old Senate Chamber. Since 1929 the federal government had been in the process of constructing a grand building for the U.S. Supreme Court. The new Supreme Court building was completed in 1935.[5]

Finally, significant funding for a new building could be available from the federal government. The Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, commonly known as the Public Works Administration, or PWA, was organized pursuant to the National Industrial Recovery Act. Led by Harold Ickes, the PWA was intended to put people to work and aid the depressed construction industry. Kenneth Markwell was the Tennessee PWA director. The PWA provided grants and loans for projects such as road construction, new bridges, and state and local public buildings, including courthouses, schools and hospitals.[6]

In the early summer of 1935, Nashville architect C. K. Colley approached the court with the notion that the state could get a federal grant for 40 percent of the cost of a new building for the Supreme Court. He even prepared a drawing of the building. Colley’s plan was for a building “of Greek doric design, with an exterior of white stone and a foundation of granite.” The basement would house the archives and the third floor would have the library. The first floor would contain offices for the judges of the appellate courts and attorney general’s office, while the second floor would have two courtrooms and office space for the Supreme Court clerk. Chief Justice Grafton Green asked the governor to include a proposal for a new Supreme Court building in his call for the upcoming special session of the legislature.[7]

Gov. Hill McAlister included construction of a Supreme Court building in his list of subjects for the 1935 special session of the General Assembly. Sen. Elmer D. Davies and Rep. James H. Cummings sponsored the bill in their respective houses. The legislature responded by enacting Chapter 35, which prominently recited the great need for the building and the availability of federal money. The act created a Tennessee Supreme Court Building Commission consisting of Gov. McAlister, Chief Justice Green and Attorney General Roy Beeler. The commission was authorized to select a site for the building “from any property now owned by the State of Tennessee.” The act further authorized the commission to select plans, furnishings and equipment for the building, and to prepare, issue and sell up to $450,000 of bonds.[8]

Colley’s proposal envisioned locating the building on the corner of Sixth and Cedar Street. Gov. McAlister apparently favored the location on the west side of the Capitol at the northwest corner of Cedar Street and Seventh Avenue North. Chapter 35 observed that “the state of Tennessee now owns certain real estate admirably adapted for the construction of the Court Building.” Pursuant to a 1921 act, the state had already purchased both properties. They were available for purchase at that time because of the foresight of the Tennessee State Capitol Association, which had sought since 1916 to preserve the grounds adjacent to the Capitol for future state use. The association purchased the property at the corner of Seventh and Cedar in 1917 with funds advanced by Elizabeth Eakin when an out-of-town publishing company announced plans to build an office building there. The 1921 act provided for the state’s purchase of property “adjoining or facing the State Capitol and its grounds.” The first two properties purchased were the lots at the corners of Seventh and Cedar, and Sixth and Cedar. The Supreme Court Building Commission chose the Seventh and Cedar site.[9]

At its first meeting, the commission chose Chief Justice Green as chairman and Attorney General Beeler as secretary. The commission also authorized C. K. Colley to file an application for federal aid for the construction and furnishing of the building. The commission specifically stated that it did not obligate itself to employ Colley’s firm as the architect if the project went through. Colley filed the application seeking 40 percent federal aid and it was denied a couple of months later. Chief Justice Green thought that “the undertaking had failed,” and that the application “was dead.”[10]

Joseph Holman, of the architectural firm of Marr and Holman, approached the commission in October, stating that he believed a federal grant could be procured if another application was filed for a reduced amount. The commission authorized him to file an application, with the caveat that this authorization did not obligate the commission to hire his firm if the application was successful. Holman filed for a grant of 30 percent. By letter of Dec. 18, 1935, the assistant administrator of the Federal Emergency Authority of Public Works, Horatio B. Hackett, offered aid in the amount of $192,857. The commission formally accepted the offer Feb. 3, 1936.[11]

Choosing the Architect and the Builder

The commission did not want to hire an architect until federal funding was assured. Nevertheless, jockeying for the position began almost as soon as the 1935 authorization for the building was enacted. By Aug. 31, General Beeler was writing to Chief Justice Green that “Colley is after me every day or two and Joe Holman is, too.” Green replied that he, too, was the object of much urging to hire the architectural firm of Marr and Holman. The commission began receiving letters on behalf of both Colley and Holman in mid-August. Letters for Marr and Holman came from H. G. Hill of the H. G. Hill Company, Oscar F. Noel of the Noel Hotel, and James G. Stahlman of the Nashville Banner. Letters on behalf of Colley came from Davidson County Clerk & Master Joseph R. West and William C. Weaver of McWorter, Weaver and Company. Architect Donald W. Southgate and the firm Hart and Russell also sought the job. No formal competition was held. On Jan. 28, 1936, the commission employed Marr and Holman as the architect for the project. Later, during the course of a dispute between Colley and Marr and Holman, both Green and Beeler indicated that Marr and Holman were selected “for reasons satisfactory to the members of the Building Commission.”[12]

Thomas Marr founded his architectural firm in 1897. His is an inspiring story. Born in 1866 and partially deafened by scarlet fever at a very young age, Marr attended the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville and graduated from Gallaudet College in 1889. He began work in an architect’s office and took a course in architecture. Five years later, he established his own architectural firm in Nashville and, in 1904, hired 13-year-old Joseph Holman as an office boy. Holman worked his way up, learning architecture and business, and in 1910, Marr and Holman established a partnership. A successful relationship with the investment banking house Caldwell and Company in the 1920s led to several significant projects such as the Andrew Jackson Hotel. Marr and Holman had recently designed the Nashville Post Office and courthouses in Bedford and Pickett counties. Their relationship reflected a division of labor: Marr concentrating on design and Holman handling the business end. Marr died of a stroke March 2, 1936, just after the firm was employed by the Building Commission.[13]

Marr’s passing did not interfere with the progress of the project. Events moved swiftly and the contractors bidding process proceeded. On March 24, 1936, the Building Commission opened bids from companies desiring to construct the building. Rock City Construction Company provided the low bid of $472,753 and was awarded the contract. The commission authorized the sale of bonds on April 2, 1936, to finance the state’s share of the project. Work was to begin on or before April 23, 1936.[14]

Rock City Construction Company was founded in 1913, and in 1918 J. W. N. Lee II became the sole owner. Early on, the company concentrated on residential and small commercial projects, such as residences in Old Hickory Village. In the 1920s and ’30s, the firm expanded its scope to larger construction projects such as buildings at Southwestern University (now Rhodes College), Scarritt College, Vanderbilt University and Fisk University. The company was and is the proud holder of state contractor’s license number 2.[15]

Before construction could begin, destruction had to occur. Two buildings stood where the new building would be placed. The first, at 401 Seventh Ave., North, housed the offices of the State Geological Survey and the Forestry and Marketing Division of the Department of Agriculture. This old residence was once the home of Major John W. Thomas, president of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad, and president of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The second building to be demolished housed the offices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges. To accommodate the construction, their offices were temporarily moved to rented space at 709 Cedar Street. The construction agreement allowed Rock City Construction to sell whatever it could salvage from the two structures.[16]

Design Changes, Furniture Choices

By the first of June, Rock City had removed the houses, fenced in the site and begun digging the basement and foundation. July would see concrete poured for the basement and foundation. On July 14, 1936, the Nashville Banner announced that plans had changed and the law library would be placed in first floor space originally intended as a court room for the Court of Appeals rather than on the third floor. The article stated that “the judges decided they had rather have one courtroom and devote the other space to the State’s law books.” Yet, the judges of the Court of Appeals were not on board with this decision. In a letter dated July 15, Judges Faw, Crownover and DeWitt protested the loss of their courtroom. They argued that this change was contrary to 1935 Public Chapter 35, which called for two courtrooms, that two courtrooms would facilitate their work because there would be no conflicts with the Supreme Court over when the single courtroom was available, and that, as time passed, caseloads would increase and more settings would be required. Despite the judges’ urging, on Aug. 5 the Building Commission approved Change Order Number 3, authorizing revisions of construction on the first floor slab at the south end of the building and other changes “to take care of the additional weight caused by placing the library at the end of the building next to Cedar Street.” Chief Justice Green continued to maintain the decision was harmonious: “The judges decided to make one courtroom do and to devote a wing of the building to library uses.”[17]

During the fall, the project encountered difficulties hiring sufficient carpenters, stone setters and brick masons until the PWA allowed a 40-hour work week instead of capping work at 30 hours. By November, the concrete form of the four-story building was in place. Ductwork and pipes began to wind through the structure, and stonework began going up on the outside of the building. January 1937 saw the insertion of window frames as the stonework rose higher, and work on internal walls began. By the end of April, the stonework on the outside of the building was completed and the windows were in. Work on the paving stones for the front plaza had begun. On May 17, 1937, bids for supplying furniture and equipment were opened. The Building Commission awarded the contract for tables, desks, chairs, file cabinets, waste baskets and telephone stands to Marshall and Bruce Company. Meyers Manufacturing Company won the bid for library and storage shelving. Building Specialties Company got the contract to furnish and install window shades. By July 15, 1937, the front plaza paving stones were in place. Construction work continued inside. October saw the initial construction of a retaining wall at the corner of Cedar Street. Several extensions were given to Rock City because of delays beyond their control in delivery of building equipment, granite for the retaining wall, woodwork and paneling.[18]

It Comes to Pass

In early Nov. 1937, the building received its first occupants. The lease for temporary judicial offices at 709 Cedar Street expired, and the judges were allowed to occupy the third floor. In late December, the Attorney General’s Office moved into the second floor.[19]

The Supreme Court Building dedication ceremony, sponsored by the Bar Association of Tennessee, was held Dec. 4, 1937, at 11 a.m. The ceremony attracted judges and lawyers from across the state. George H. Armistead Jr., president of the Tennessee Bar Association, presided over the festivities. He observed that “the new building afforded the first adequate quarters for the appellate courts of the state and congratulated those who had any part in the work.” In particular, Joseph Holman and J. W. N. Lee II were introduced and complimented for their contributions to the project. Gov. Gordon Browning spoke on the relationship between the Executive and Judicial departments. Congressman Richard Atkinson of Nashville spoke about the relationship between the Legislative and Judicial departments. Chief Justice Green discussed the Judiciary, and Judge Crownover, substituting for Judge Faw, discussed the Court of Appeals. Attorney Charles Burch spoke on behalf of the Tennessee Bar Association about the history of the Tennessee Supreme Court. All the speakers recognized the significant role the judicial branch played in Tennessee’s government.[20]

The Building Itself

The exterior of the Supreme Court Building is classical in form but reflects the “starved” classicism style in which buildings are still formal and symmetrical, but classical detail is reduced. The Office of the Architect of the Treasury preferred this style for federally funded public buildings. The Nashville Banner labeled the building “modified classic” in design. Marr and Holman were experienced with this style, having designed Nashville’s Main Post Office on Broadway (now the Frist Center for the Visual Arts) in 1934. The columned “Greek Temple” look of Colley’s proposal was displaced by a formal, classically proportioned building with simplified ornamentation except for the detailed cornice. Squared piers with Doric entablature replaced the columns.[21]

The building’s exterior is limestone and granite. The main decorative features are a cornice with mutules, with the exception of the east facade, which has carved stone Art Deco panels. The east facade also displays cast bronze medallions featuring the Supreme Court Seal and cast bronze light standards. The entrance plaza is finished in grey granite and tan crab-orchard stone. The original grassy area enclosed by the granite retaining wall was much larger. When Charlotte Avenue (formerly Cedar Street) was widened, the wall was relocated to its present position.[22]

The first floor is the area the public sees. Consequently, it has many more interesting architectural details than the other areas of the building. The impressive entrance vestibule contains six pairs of imposing bronze and glass doors. The walls are Tennessee “Roseat” marble and the floor is Tennessee “Rose Grey” and “Cedar” marble. The ceiling is plaster. Early visitors entering the building were also impressed by the building’s climate, since it was the first new building in Nashville to be cooled by a central air conditioning system.[23]

The lobby, sometimes known as the Hall of Justice, is 32 feet square with a 16-foot ceiling. The walls and floors are of the same marble as the vestibule, with the addition of some “Cardiff Green” marble in a border. The most striking feature of the lobby is the six-foot diameter plaque of the Supreme Court Seal in the lobby floor. It consists of a bronze center casting with the name of the court and a figure of justice. Around the bronze center is a border made of alternating triangles of Tennessee “Cedar” and “Cardiff Green” marble. Surrounding this border is a terrazzo field with the motto “FIAT JUSTITIA RUAT CAELUM” (“LET JUSTICE BE DONE THOUGH THE HEAVENS MAY FALL”) in brass letters. All this is surrounded by another border identical to the one surrounding the bronze center. Above the seal is a chandelier with bronze decorative features hanging from a star-shaped plaster ornament with bronze leaf finish. Original bronze torchieres are placed beside the doorways to the courtroom and the library.[24]

A significant addition to the lobby in 2003 was the placement of black marble plaques along portions of the north and west walls. The plaques, donated and maintained by the Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society, honor all former and current appellate judges in Tennessee by listing them, by court, with their dates of service.[25]

Two busts are in the lobby. In 1949 the lawyers of Tennessee presented to the state a marble bust of former Chief Justice Grafton Green. Bryant Baker was the sculptor. Chief Justice Green was the guiding force behind the construction of the Supreme Court Building and the longest serving justice. In 2007, the bust of former Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch was added to the lobby. It was sculpted by Zenos Frudakis. Besides being an excellent judge, Justice Birch is noted for being the first African-American Supreme Court Chief Justice and for being the only Supreme Court Justice to serve at all levels of the Tennessee court system.[26]

Also gracing the lobby is a portrait of former Chief Justice Frank Drowota. Painted by artist Michael Shane Neal, the portrait was presented to the state in 2005 and placed in the southeast corner of the lobby.[27]

Certain necessities of modern life have intruded upon the lobby and diminished its beauty. A security station has been placed in the southwest corner of the lobby. While it has been made as attractive as possible, it does not mesh with the decor of the lobby. In addition, an x-ray machine and a metal detector are located in the southeast portion of the lobby. Like all such items, they are an eyesore.

The western wall of the lobby accesses the elevator lobby. The elevator doors are polished bronze and contain symbols of justice, law and authority. Opposite the elevator is a stairwell ascending to the second floor. The stairwell contains carefully matched Tennessee “Roseat” marble wall panels. The stairs are bordered with a graceful brass balustrade and newel.[28]

The public corridor beyond the elevator lobby is rather plain. Ornamental work is minimal. The walls have six-foot marble wainscots with painted plaster above. A large wooden counter, added in the 1990s in front of the clerk’s office, intrudes into the hallway. Beside the counter are tables for attorneys and others to use, for example, to examine records.[29]

From the lobby, one can go north into the vestibule for the courtroom or south into the vestibule for the library. Above the entrance to the vestibule for the courtroom are a cast bronze Supreme Court Seal and two fasces. Both vestibules have marble walls and plaster ceilings. Now carpeted, the original floors of these areas were grey rubber tile with a black border.[30]

The courtroom reflects the dignity of the judicial system and has changed very little in 75 years. It measures 38 feet, 2 inches by 48 feet, 8 inches with a 16-foot ceiling. The walls have East Tennessee “Fantasia Rose” marble pilasters with Ionic entablature enclosing painted plaster. Hanging on the walls are portraits of former Supreme Court Justices John Catron, Nathan Green, William B. Turley, William B. Reese and A. O. P. Nicholson. Surrounding the relatively plain bench is walnut paneling, and walnut wainscoting is on the other walls. The Supreme Court Seal is carved into a wooden panel behind the chief justice’s chair. Eight Art Deco chandeliers with symbols of law light the room. Heavy draperies and heavy wool carpeting dampen the sounds in the room. The furniture, with the exception of the judges’ chairs, is original, although the chairs used by the attorneys and the public have been recovered.[31]

Two rooms are related to the courtroom. One room connects to the vestibule and also has a doorway into the rear of the courtroom. It has been used as a staff office and as the office of the clerk. Original designs designate the room as “attorney’s office.” The other room is designated on the plans as “work and file room.” Commonly called the robing room, it is where the judges assemble before entering the courtroom. It is also used for deliberations after oral arguments. The room contains a conference table, chairs and two large cabinets, one for storage of robes and the other originally intended to be an exhibit cabinet.[32]

The library occupies the south end of the first floor. Bookstacks are located on the main floor and the mezzanine level, which is accessed by stairways located on both the east and west ends of the room. Carpet now covers the original rubber tile floor and the Art Deco light fixtures have been replaced with fluorescent fixtures. Originally housing more than 50,000 books, the library in recent years has suffered from reduced use, at least in part due to the increased availability of electronic research databases. In 2008, budget cuts forced the closing of the library to the public and many book purchases and updates were discontinued. Currently, the library is still used by court personnel, and now part of the space is devoted to a small museum to exhibit artifacts, documents and photographs about the history of Tennessee’s courts.[33]

The second floor was originally given to the attorney general and staff, but they moved out in 1976. The third floor was for the judges and their staff. Today, the second and third floors are devoted to judges’ chambers and space for support staff and clerks. The portion of the third floor that was originally intended for the library houses offices and a conference room. These two floors do not have the interesting architectural features of the first floor but are reflective of the high quality office building interiors of the 1930s. The corridors are wide with 6-foot marble wainscots on the walls with painted plaster above. The original floors of the corridors were rubber tile with marble borders, and the office floors were rubber tile. The corridors are still tiled, but the offices are now carpeted. Art Deco light fixtures have been replaced by fluorescent fixtures. The doors are wood with metal frames having a simulated wood-grain finish. The locksets on the doors are like the ones on the first floor, cast bronze with large escutcheons that include the Seals of the State and the Supreme Court.[34]

The fourth floor has been transformed from its original use as storage. In 1965, it was remodeled as office space for the executive secretary of the Supreme Court and staff (now known as the Administrative Office of the Courts). The remodel did not replicate the high-quality work found elsewhere in the building but rather reflects typical 1960s office space. Unfortunately, in order to hide ductwork, a false wall was built which covers the original windows.[35]

Significant Events

On Feb. 7, 1938, the Supreme Court heard the first arguments in the new courtroom. The case of Wauldaur v. Britton addressed the constitutionality of a legislative act concerning the membership of the state election board. The act was upheld in a decision issued a month later.[36]

The significant cases heard and decided in the building are too numerous to mention. A short listing of them includes Cummings v. Beeler, which approved the use of the limited constitutional convention to amend the Tennessee Constitution; Nashville Housing v. Nashville, where the court upheld a slum clearing ordinance that eventually reshaped the appearance of the area around the Capitol; Kidd v. McCanless, which paved the way for the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Baker v. Carr by indicating state courts could not interfere with reapportionment matters; Dunn v. Palermo, where the court held that a woman did not have to take her husband’s surname upon marriage; McIntyre v. Balentine, which adopted a modified comparative fault system; and Tennessee Small Schools Systems v. McWherter, which found Tennessee’s system for funding elementary and secondary education unconstitutional.[37]

A major ceremony was held on Saturday, April 30, 1949, in which the lawyers of Tennessee donated the marble bust of Grafton Green to the court. Sculptor Bryant Baker spoke of the honor of working on the commission and commented that job provided an interesting character study. Marion Evans, the president of the Tennessee Bar Association, discussed Chief Justice Green, his family tradition of law, his greatness as a jurist and his sterling personal qualities. Gov. Browning echoed those remarks and Chief Justice A. B. Neil accepted the sculpture on behalf of the court.[38]

Just five years later, on Sept. 4, 1954, Attorney General Beeler fell exiting the building’s elevator and fractured his hip. He died three weeks later on Sept. 23 from complications arising from the injury. His 22 years of service as Tennessee attorney general constitute, by far, the longest tenure of any Tennessee attorney general. The Supreme Court commemorated his life and many accomplishments at a memorial service held in the courtroom on Dec. 16, 1954.[39]

Staff Is Hired and Moves In

In 1963, the legislature created the position of executive secretary of the Supreme Court to aid the court in the administration of the judicial branch of the government. The court appointed Chancellor T. Mack Blackburn to the position. The act specified that the executive secretary and staff would be provided office space in the Supreme Court Building. The infusion of more people required the reworking of the fourth floor space from storage to offices.[40]

The legislature created the Court of Criminal Appeals in 1967. The addition of three more judges and their staffs placed additional strain upon the building’s space. There were two answers to the need for space. First, in 1976, Attorney General Ashley and his staff moved to quarters on James Robertson Parkway. The judges of the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals relocated to the second floor. Second, in 1991, the executive secretary and staff moved to a nearby building and court staff occupied the fourth floor space.[41]

A Star Was Born

Scenes for two movies have been filmed in the building. In 1984, the movie “Marie” used the courtroom. The filmmakers determined that the drapes were too worn to appear in the film, so the Dino De Laurentiis Company purchased new drapes, identical to the originals, from the original supplier. The library served as the location for scenes from “Last Dance,” in 1995, and “Billy, the Early Years,” in 2008.[42]

The building has seen numerous memorial ceremonies, swearing-in ceremonies of judges, attorneys general and others, as well as a few weddings. Perhaps the most noteworthy ceremony occurred when Gov. Lamar Alexander took the oath of office. In order to prevent further inmate pardons by Gov. Ray Blanton, Tennessee Attorney General William M. Leech Jr., and United States Attorney Hal D. Hardin arranged for Gov.-elect Alexander to take the oath of office on Jan. 17, 1979 — three days early. The six-minute ceremony was held in the courtroom with Chief Justice Joseph Henry administering the oath. In attendance were Attorney General Leech, Lt. Gov. John Wilder, Speaker of the House Ned Ray McWherter, other state officials, Gov. Alexander’s family and staff, and numerous members of the media.[43]

Two ceremonies for chief justices are deserving of mention. In 1996, Justice Adolpho A. Birch took the oath as chief justice, becoming the first African-American to serve in that position. In 2008, Justice Janice Holder became the first woman to become chief justice. The courtroom also witnessed Judge Patricia Cottrell become the first female presiding judge of the Middle Section of the Court of Appeals in 2007, and the first Nashville sitting of a Tennessee Supreme Court having a female majority in 2009.


The future of the Supreme Court Building in Nashville is secure. It is well maintained and has become a beloved feature of the Capitol Hill area. Its design has proved flexible enough to meet the needs of the appellate courts for 75 years. While discussions of the future needs of the Judicial Branch occur continuously, the Supreme Court Building will always play the preeminent role as the home of Tennessee’s judiciary.


  1. 1796 Tennessee Constitution, Art.. V, Sec. 1; Robert H. White, comp., Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, Volume 2: 1821-1835 (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission, 1952), 654-55 (reprinting “Madison” letter VII from The Nashville Whig, Oct. 6, 1834); James Ely, Jr., ed., A History of the Tennessee Supreme Court (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002), 10.
  2. 1834 Tennessee Constitution, Art. VI, Secs. 1,2; White, Messages, 647, 650 (quoting “Madison” letter V from the Nashville Whig, Sept. 26, 1834).
  3. Wilbur Foster Creighton, Building of Nashville (Nashville, 1969) 20; “Nashville Market House,” National Banner & Nashville Whig, Jan. 24, 1829 (reprinted in The Nashville Retrospect, January 2012 at 1, 10).
  4. “Court Building Will Afford Law Library,” Nashville Banner, July 14, 1936; Carroll Van West, Tennessee’s New Deal Landscape, (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2001) 34- 35; Robert H. White, comp., Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, Volume 8: 1899-1907 (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission, 1972), 304; Polk’s Nashville City Directory (1933), 1113.
  5. Robert Shnayerson, The Illustrated History of the Supreme Court of the United States (New York: Harry N..Abrams Inc., 1986). 86, 121; The Court Building, http://supremecourt.gov/ about/courtbuilding.aspx.
  6. West, Tennessee’s New Deal Landscape, 15-16.
  7. Letter from Grafton Green to Joseph W. Holman, Oct. 14, 1936 found in the Supreme Court Building Commission files, Tennessee State Library and Archives [all other letters cited in this article are from the same source] ; W. P. Hoffman,” New Building for the Supreme Court Sought,” The Nashville Tennessean, July 12, 1935.
  8. Governor’s Proclamation of July 15, 1935, 1935 House Journal, 29; 1935 Public Chapter 35.
  9. Hoffman, “New Building,” July 12, 1935; 1935 Public Acts, Chapter 35; 1921 Public Acts, Chapter 48; Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects, John Sevier State Office Building: Historic Structure Report (Nashville, 2008), 4; Louise Davis, “Refugees’ Dream,” The Nashville Tennessean Sunday Magazine, July 17, 1949, 6-7; Kem G. Hinton, A Long Path: The Search for a Tennessee Bicentennial Landmark (Franklin: Hillsboro Press, 1997), 30, 177; 1933 Nashville City Directory, 1113.
  10. Supreme Court Building Commission Minutes, Aug. 14, 1935, found in the Supreme Court Building Commission files, Tennessee State Library and Archives [ hereinafter cited as Building Commission Minutes]; Letter from Grafton Green to Joseph Holman, Oct. 14, 1936.
  11. Green Letter, Oct. 14, 1936; Charles W. Warterfield, Tennessee Supreme Court Building at Nashville Historic Structure Report (1992) 10; Letter from Horatio B. Hackett to the State of Tennessee, Dec. 18, 1935; Building Commission Minutes, Feb. 3, 1936.
  12. Letter from Roy Beeler to Grafton Green, Aug. 31, 1935; Letter from Grafton Green to Roy Beeler, Sept. 3, 1935; Letter from H. G. Hill to Roy Beeler, Aug. 14, 1935; Letter from Oscar F. Noel to Roy Beeler, August 16, 1935 ; Letter from James G. Stahlman to Roy Beeler, Aug. 7, 1935; Letter from Joseph R. West to Roy Beeler, Aug. 14, 1935; Letter from William C. Weaver to the Building Commission, Aug. 13, 1935; Letter from J. C. Russell of Hart and Russell to the Building Commission, Aug. 12, 1935; Letter from Donald W. Southgate to Roy Beeler, Aug. 8, 1935; Building Commission Minutes, Jan. 28, 1936. Colley’s complaint against Holman for unprofessional conduct in connection with the selection of architects for the new Supreme Court Building in Nashville was dismissed by the American Institute of Architects. AIA Board of Directors Meeting Minutes, Nov. 15, 1937.
  13. Harry G. Lang and Bonnie Meath-Lang, Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995) 235; Carroll Van West, ed., “Marr and Holman Architectural Firm,” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Society and Rutledge Hill Press, 1998), 573; Mrs. J. B. Chandler, “Thomas Scott Marr, Architect,” The Silent Worker, vol. 4, No. 5 (June 1929), 182, 183; Sophie and Paul Crane, Tennessee Taproots (Old Hickory: Earle-Shields Publishers, 1976), 3, 82.
  14. Building Commission Minutes, Mar. 24, 1936 and Apr. 2, 1936; Letter from Grafton Green to Rock City Construction, Apr. 16, 1936.
  15. Joe April, “Almost a Century of Service: Rock City Construction now state’s oldest licensed contractor,” The Williamson Herald, Jan. 15, 2009; http://www.rockcity-gc.com/ history.htm; http://www.rockcity-gc.com/ yesteryear.htm.
  16. Polk’s Nashville City Directory, 1113; Louise Davis, “Refugees’ Dream,” The Nashville Tennessean Sunday Magazine, July 17, 1949, 6-7; Letter, Roy Beeler to John F. Nolan, Director of Accounts, Oct. 20, 1937; Construction Contract, General Conditions, Demolition.
  17. “Court Building Will Afford Law Library, Nashville Banner, July 14, 1936; Letter from Judges Faw, Crownover and DeWitt to the “Tennessee Court Building Commission,” July 15, 1936; Building Commission Minutes, Aug. 5, 1936; Christine Sadler, “Tennessee Builds First Home for Supreme Court,” The Nashville Banner Magazine, Sept. 20, 1936, 8.
  18. Letters from Kenneth Markwell to Roy Beeler, Oct. 23, 1936 and Nov. 17, 1936; Building Commission Minutes, May 17, 1937, Oct. 20, 1937, and Dec. 15, 1937.
  19. Letter from R. S. Reynolds of Marr and Holman to H. T. Cole, Regional Director of PWA, Nov. 1, 1937; Letter Markwell to Beeler, Dec. 22, 1937.
  20. “Tennessee’s New Supreme Court Building.” 172 Tenn. 879 (1938); “Homage Is Paid to Judiciary as Court Building Dedicated,” Nashville Banner, Dec. 4, 1937.
  21. Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects, John Sevier State Office Building: Historic Structure Report (Nashville, 2008), 18; Sadler, “Tennessee Builds,” 8-9; Christine Kreyling, Wesley Paine, Charles W. Warterfield, Jr., and Susan Ford Wiltshire, Classical Nashville: Athens of the South (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1996), 66-67.
  22. Warterfield, Historic Structure Report, 23.
  23. Ibid. at 21, 29.
  24. Ibid, at 30.
  25. Jack W. Robinson Sr., “Tennessee Supreme Court Building: Stately Hall of Justice,” The Chronicle, Newsletter of the Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society, Fall 2010, 12.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid;
  28. Warterfield, Historic Structure Report, 30, 37, 39.
  29. Ibid at 30.
  30. Ibid at 41.
  31. Ibid, at 41, 47.
  32. Ibid, at 58.
  33. Ibid, at 48.
  34. Ibid, at 29, 48-49.
  35. Ibid, at 50.
  36. Waldauer v. Brittan, 113 S.W.2d 1178 (Tenn. 1938). The Nashville Banner ran a photograph of Assistant Attorney General Edwin F. Hunt arguing before the court. Besides being a fine lawyer, Hunt was a champion checkers player, having already won the 1934 U.S. Championship. He would be the U.S. Co-champion in 1946 and 1962. “Checkers Game Champion Edwin Hunt,” http://www.checkerchest.com/checkrs/hunt.htm.
  37. Cummings v. Beeler, 223 S.W.2d 913 (Tenn. 1949); Nashville Housing v. Nashville, 237 S.W.2d 946 (Tenn. 1951); Kidd v.McCanless, 292 S.W.2d 40 (Tenn. 1956); Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962); Dunn v. Palermo, 522 S.W.2d 679 (Tenn. 1975); McIntyre v. Balentine, 833 S.W.2d 52 (Tenn. 1992); Tennessee Small School Systems v. McWherter, 851 S.W.2d 139 (Tenn. 1993).
  38. “Proceedings on the Dedication of the Marble Bust of the Late Chief Justice Grafton Green” 188 Tenn. 708, 708-711 (1949).
  39. “Roy H. Beeler Died from Fall Suffered Sept. 4,” Tennessean, Sept. 24, 1954; Memorial Service in Memory of the Late Roy H. Beeler, 197 Tenn. 705 (1954).
  40. 1963 Public Acts, Ch. 86; Waterfield, Historic Structure Report, 50.
  41. 1967 Public Acts, Ch. 226; Waterfield, Historic Structure Report, 50.
  42. Author’s interview with Supreme Court Justice William C. Koch Jr., Jan. 26, 2012.
  43. William C. Koch Jr., “They Were Tennesseans First,” Nashville Bar Journal (March 2007) 8, 12-13.

Judge Andy Bennett After graduating from Vanderbilt Law School in 1982, JUDGE ANDY D. BENNETT served in the Tennessee Attorney General's Office for 25 years, the last 10 years as chief deputy. He also served as president of the Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society from 2005-07. In 1998, Bennett received the William M. Leech Jr. Award for outstanding service to the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, and in 2004 he received the Marvin Award from the National Association of Attorneys General for “outstanding leadership, expertise and achievement in advancing the goals of the National Association of Attorneys General.” He was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals on Sept. 18, 2007, by Gov. Phil Bredesen and elected Aug. 7, 2008.