As an institution steeped in tradition, the United States Supreme Court isn't as technologically up-to-date as it might be. The Court allows audio recordings only while court is in session, refusing to let anyone record video of the proceedings, and the justices prefer correspondence through the U.S. mail rather than email. This can be seen as a benefit to a large number of people, though, because it means that anyone who can afford paper and postage can write to a Supreme Court justice. Write an interesting, well-thought-out letter and it may end up in the hands of a member of the highest court in the land.
Writing the Letter
Justices receive large numbers of letters each week, and it would be impossible for each justice to open and read every letter that's addressed to her. Each justice has staff that deals with correspondence, and they know to pass along important or interesting letters according to each justice's interests.
Knowing how to write a letter to the Supreme Court is almost as important as knowing what you want to say. Proper form is key when trying to stand out in a good way. Use a business letter format with your address at the top of the page above the date, followed by the recipient's address. This should be the same form of address as that used on the front of the envelope. Begin the letter with Dear Chief Justice or Dear Justice (surname), depending on your recipient. For example, the Chief Justice as of 2018 is Hon. John G. Roberts, so if you were to write a letter to him, you would address the letter to "Dear Chief Justice Roberts," while if you were writing a letter to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you would address the letter to "Dear Justice Ginsburg."
Keep your letter straightforward and to the point, leaving out unnecessary details. Make it businesslike and include all necessary information. Finish with a salutation, such as Thank you or Sincerely, then sign it with your name and address.
Addressing the Envelope
The U.S. Supreme Court is an understandably large institution with over 500 people working to do the work of the court. You need to address your envelope correctly in order to make sure it gets into the right hands. If you want to write to one particular justice, this is the form:
- For the Chief Justice, address your envelope to: The Chief Justice of the United States, One First Street N.E., Washington, D.C., 20543
- To address a letter to any other Supreme Court justice, address the envelope to: Justice (surname), The Supreme Court of the United States, One First Street N.E., Washington, D.C., 20543
Sometimes letters to the court don't need to be addressed to an individual justice. If your letter is of a general nature, you can write either to The Public Information Officer, The Supreme Court of the United States, One First Street N.E., Washington, D.C., 20543, or contact the Public Information Office on its website.
Sample Letter to Supreme Court Justice
The following letter deals with imaginary issues, but follows the correct form when writing a letter to a Supreme Court justice.
1234 Jones Way, Brown, Colorado
March 17, 2018
The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The Supreme Court of the United States
One First Street N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20543
Dear Justice Ginsburg,
I'm writing on behalf of my brother, John Foster, who is currently serving a 20-year sentence for criminal drug charges. John's case is currently going through the appeals process, and it should appear in your court some time this year.
John is a loving father, a widower who wanted nothing more than to support his two children is a safe and secure home. Unlike some prisoners who are serving time for drug charges, John was convinced that everything he did was legal. According to Colorado state law, registered growers could legally grow marijuana plants if they follow certain guidelines such as keeping exacting records and registering their sales contacts.
John kept meticulous records, filled out every form the state required for his business, and followed every rule and regulation the state required. His city, county and state governments all agree that he followed the letter of the law every step of the way.
On Christmas day in 2011, he was arrested by the DEA and charged with federal drug trafficking offences. He was subsequently convicted and is now serving out that sentence.
The conflict between state and federal drug laws are at direct odds, and many honest business people are being caught in this legal web. I urge you to agree to hear arguments on this case in the coming year and to look favorably on John and others in his same predicament.
Read More: How to Address a Letter to a Supreme Court Judge
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court prefer actual letters over email in their correspondence. Use a business letter format, address your letter to the individual justice you want to contact, then address the envelope using the Supreme Court building's physical address.
- The Atlantic: Why Aren't Cameras Allowed at the Supreme Court Again?
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Writing the Basic Business Letter
- The Supreme Court Historical Society: How the Court Works | The Court's Workload and Staff
- University of Richmond: How to Address Judges/Justices
- The U.S. Supreme Court: The Supreme Court Building
Victoria Bailey has a degree in Public Law and Government. She has spoken before state Supreme Court justices and her photograph is on the back cover of Bill Clinton's autobiography. As a former member of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, Bailey worked closely with lawmakers to help set public policy. Bailey's work appears on numerous websites, and she's currently writing the text for a governmental information app.