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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs