News / USA

US Supreme Court Closes Famous Entrance

Bronze doors with eight bas-relief panels depicting scenes in the development of Western law by John Donnelly & Sons
Bronze doors with eight bas-relief panels depicting scenes in the development of Western law by John Donnelly & Sons

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court closed its front entrance because of security concerns.  Visitors and litigants will now have to go through side entrances with heightened security.  The move is drawing criticism from justices, historians and the public.

Listen to an interview with University of Virginia architecture professor Richard Guy Wilson:

The U.S. Supreme Court building sits on First Street across from the U.S. Capitol and near the Library of Congress.  Its design is reminiscent of a Roman temple with a colonnade across the front.  

Atop the Corinthian columns along the west front of the building are the words "Equal Justice Under Law" carved into the Vermont marble.  The bas-relief sculptures depict figures raised from a sunken background.  The facade includes sculptures representing Order, Liberty Enthroned, and Authority.  Liberty is the centerpiece of the group.

The building was designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert and features a set of huge bronze doors. The doors have four, low-relief panels that illustrate key developments in the Western legal tradition.  Gilbert and John Donnelley, Sr. designed the doors to signify the importance of the proceedings taking place at the Court.

Litigants and spectators alike including those from several high-profile cases - Brown vs. the Board of Education - a key case in the U.S. Civil Rights movement - and Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case on abortion - have passed through the doors into the Court chamber.

But now that is impossible.

Visitors can no longer enter the front door of the Supreme Court, 07 May 2010
Visitors can no longer enter the front door of the Supreme Court, 07 May 2010

In keeping with security recommendations, visitors, litigants and spectators must now go to the side entrances of the iconic building.  They may leave the Court through the bronze doors, but they cannot enter that way.

On a bright, Spring day in Washington, several tour groups are gathered outside the Court.  One of those leading a tour of school children is Kent Smiema of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who is a sign language interpreter for the Close Up foundation.  Mika Bennett-Fraychineaud from Arizona, a member of the group says closing the doors sends the wrong message.

"The front door of the Supreme Court should never be closed, let alone closed permanently," said Smiema. "We need as American citizens to be able to know what is going on in our government and the decisions the Supreme Court is making."

Ballards help protect the entrance of the Supreme Court, 07 May 2010
Ballards help protect the entrance of the Supreme Court, 07 May 2010

University of Virginia Commonwealth Professor of Architectural history Richard Guy Wilson says that the intention of the entrance was to make a statement about the importance of law in the United States.  But Wilson says that closing the bronze doors is a bad idea.

"It is, I think, very much the whole idea that we are all equal and we all stand together in front of the law," he said. "But what we have been increasingly seeing is this - and I do understand security, but there are other ways of handling security than putting you through the basement.  We used to enter a building in a sense like we were all part of royalty. And now we enter like we are a bunch of rats, in the basement."

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote in a statement joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg that the significance of the front entrance "extends beyond its design and function." Justice Stephens said that the entrance has been used multiple times to represent the ideal that "anyone in this country may obtain meaningful justice through application to this Court."

The Justice said he finds the move "dispiriting" while acknowledging the need for increased security in the wake of terrorist attacks.  Justice Breyer wrote that he knows of no other Supreme Court in the world - including Israel's which faces security concerns as well - that has closed its front door.

The official statement from the Court - which couched the move as part of its ongoing modernization project - said the decision to close the entrance was made after security studies in 2001 and 2009.  

Moving the entrances is intended to help reduce a threat from weapons, explosives, chemical weapons and biological attacks.  Those visiting the court may still leave through the bronze doors, but - for now - going into the building that way is impossible.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid