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

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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid