After 30 Years, Supreme Court History Project Turns a Final Page

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Call it “The Supreme Court: The Missing Years.” A small team of legal historians is wrapping up the work of reconstructing the Supreme Court’s first decade, a period largely lost to history due to poor official records, misleading contemporaneous accounts and the fire that burned the Capitol, where the Supreme Court was located, in the War of 1812.

The task figured to be a challenge, but no one realized just how daunting it would be when the Supreme Court Historical Society conceived the Documentary History Project and hired Maeva Marcus, a young historian with a newly minted Ph.D., to run it.

That was 30 years ago. Ms. Marcus’s two children, who used the Supreme Court building as their weekend playground when the project was housed there in its early years, grew up to become, not surprisingly, lawyers. One, Jonathan Marcus, argues before the Supreme Court as a lawyer in the solicitor general’s office. The other, Stephanie Marcus, handles appeals in the Justice Department’s civil division.

Now Maeva Marcus and the project’s three associate editors are getting ready to close their office in the basement of the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building on Capitol Hill. The eighth and final volume of the “Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800,” has gone to press. Columbia University Press, which began publishing the project’s work in 1985, will bring out the last volume in February.

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