As the birthplace of John Marshall, the fourth chief justice of the United States, Fauquier County has a lot to celebrate during the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.
To commemorate Marshall, and the part he played in establishing the role of the Supreme Court and interpreting the Constitution, William Rehnquist, the current chief justice, will appear in a special session of court in Warrenton on Sept. 26.
It will be one of only two public appearances Rehnquist plans to make this year to celebrate the Constitution. The other will be in Philadelphia on Sept. 17 for the national celebration of the document.
"It's a source of great local pride that we're being honored to have him come here," said James Downey, county attorney and chairman of the county's bicentennial committee. "It heightens the recognition of John Marshall, both nationally and among the minds of local citizens, as our distinguished natural citizen."
Marshall was born in Midland, about nine miles from Warrenton, in 1755. He was a protege of George Washington and an officer in the American Revolution, fighting in several battles, including at Valley Forge. Before becoming chief justice, he served as secretary of war and secretary of state and was a member of Congress.
As chief justice for 34 years, he was instrumental in defining the role of the still-new Supreme Court, particularly in regard to passing final judgments on the Constitution.
"Justice Rehnquist is an admirer of John Marshall and was happy to accept our invitation," Downey said.
Rehnquist's invitation, which was written by Arthur Goldberg, former associate justice of the Supreme Court, included a tour of Oak Hill, Marshall's ancestral home in Delaplane, about 16 miles from Warrenton.
The special court session will begin at 2 p.m. in Warrenton's old courthouse. This building is "the most appropriate place in the county for the session," according to Downey. A portrait of Marshall dominates the attractive courtroom, built in 1890 on a site that had held four courthouses since 1795.
Besides Rehnquist, presiding at the session will be Charles Foley, local district court judge; Harry Carrico, chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court; Lawrence J. Koontz Jr., chief judge of the Virginia Court of Appeals, and Goldberg.
Downey and Carrico will open the session with introductory remarks. Fauquier County Bar Association President Alan Olson will then present a resolution commemorating the life and local ties of Marshall. Rehnquist will close the ceremony with a memorial address about Marshall. A public reception in the courthouse square will follow.
Because of the size of the old courtroom, only 200 spectators will be admitted. Most of the seats have been reserved for state and county officials and legislators, and only about 50 seats are expected to be available to the public, Downey said.
Tickets for the public are to be distributed at 2 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Circuit Court information desk at Lee and Culpeper streets on a first-come, first-served basis. Those unable to get a ticket can see the session on closed-circuit video in the Payne building or the county boardroom, next to the old courthouse.
"I don't know how else to do it," Downey said of the ticket distribution procedure. "I think most people understand that we have some constraints we have to make in holding this special session . . . . "