May 3rd, 2010
01:41 PM ET
12 years ago

Justices lament closing main entrance to high court building


The closure of the main entrance to the Supreme Court is part of an ongoing modernization program. (PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES/FILE)

Washington (CNN) - Two Supreme Court justices have labeled as "unfortunate" plans to permanently close the court's front entrance, where visitors have for decades passed under the famous words "Equal Justice Under Law."

The court announced that starting Tuesday, the primary entry for most visitors will be through two ground-level doors on each side of the marble front steps. Those wanting to enter the building could until now walk up the steps and enter through the magnificent Great Hall, with its vaulted ceilings and massive columns, leading the public to the first-floor courtroom. Those who did so included lawyers coming to argue cases and tourists wanting to observe how the highest court in the United States operates.

The change is part of the court's ongoing modernization program for the 75-year-old building. The court said the new entrances will provide a "secure, reinforced area to screen for weapons, explosives, and chemical and biological hazards."

The move came after recommendations from two independent security studies conducted last year and in 2001– after the building was closed for several days over fears the deadly anthrax bacteria had arrived through the mailroom in the court's basement.

But Justice Stephen Breyer, in a written memo, said the change does a disservice to the original design and symbolism of the courthouse.

"Writers and artists regularly use the steps to represent the ideal that anyone in this country may obtain meaningful justice through application to this court," said Breyer, who has been on the court since 1994. "Time has proven the success of [architect Cass] Gilbert's vision: to many members of the public this court's main entrance and front steps are not only a means to, but also a metaphor for, access to the court itself."

The 71-year-old justice labeled as "dispiriting" the decision to refuse entry through the front steps, although visitors may still leave the building that way. Breyer was supported by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and both expressed hope that one day more money or reduced threats could mean a change in policy, "to restore the Supreme Court's main entrance as a symbol of dignified openness and meaningful access to equal justice under law."

Filed under: Supreme Court
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. SocialismBad

    The days of wide open unsecured front doors to government buildings is LLOOOONNNGGGG gone. Are these two living in a dream world???

    May 3, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  2. Obama the liar

    all in the name of islamist

    May 3, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  3. Citizen

    Here is a classic example of what the liberals of the SCOTUS have brought us:
    In my hometown there is a beautiful small park down from where my family lives, we use to go there frequently with our children. Recently, the homeless have invaded bringing with them volumes of trash, empty beer cans, cups, a mattress, debris and human excrement piles around the play area. I have notified the police department repeatedly as we have ordinances against this type of activity, only to be told that they can not enforce them due to their fear of the ACLU, and get this, they are in fear that they may infringe on THEIR (vagrants) Constitutional rights, they may be violated.... Here is my question, what about MY Constitutional rights and other common tax paying productive citizens? I mean I am the taxpayer, it is our tax dollars being given to them for everything they could ever want or need, I pay taxes to maintain a park and a police force that can no longer function to serve in the best interest of the tax paying public. They informed me many of these vagrants are dopers, alkies and mentally unstable, they deal with them on a regular basis. My auto has been burglarized 3 times in the last two years, do I wait for one to hurt my little girls, most seem to choose to be this way and seem to like it. This is what this political correctness attitude has brought us, I can't wait for the pendulum to swing!

    May 3, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  4. GI Joe

    ".......visitors have for decades passed under the famous words "Equal Justice Under Law."

    Hmmmm – with mostly catholic justices, and corporations now able to openly buy our politicians, maybe there will be no more "equal justice" to the citizens of this country, so it will be removed.

    In fact, maybe it's been too late to stop this stuff for decades......

    May 3, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    The reason for closing the front entrance is because the conservative majority justices are feeling the heat from some of their last decisions which one was to give big business the right to buy our elections with all of their big bucks.

    May 3, 2010 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |

    We are becoming a fortress America state. Withdrawing from the
    Middle East must occur soon or else we will become a closed and
    paranoid nation afraid of our own shadows. Getting bogged down
    in the Middle East was a dumb decision in the first place. It's time
    to get out.

    May 3, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  7. Sarcastic

    Another thing ruined by terrorism.

    May 3, 2010 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  8. doug

    With what the Democrat did in Austin and Alabama, you have to be very careful these days. The post bds lib might have eclipsed the amount of danger they post, even if they were trying to kill president Bush, shouting for his death and making movie about it and all that.

    Let us that god that President Obama will never have to know the danger that George W Bush had with the Democrats of this nation.

    May 3, 2010 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  9. american patriot

    They are now obviously scared of the WE THE PEOPLE

    May 3, 2010 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  10. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert but...

    Hmmm.... I guess corporations don't fit through the front door. Have a nice day!

    May 3, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  11. Julian Bray UK

    With respect 75 years is a new building, now have a look at the Central London Criminal Court in London known as the Old Bailey – that is an old building...

    May 3, 2010 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  12. DB Wilburn

    I guess their popularity is at an all time low, still seems cowardly.

    May 3, 2010 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  13. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    They might as well sand blast the slogan off the building since the GOP Supreme Court handed Bush the 2000 election....

    May 3, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  14. Craig

    Well why dont the conservitive justices ( the ones who made the changes recently so corperations and other outside the us entities can give money to a persons campaign running for office) change the rules here? After doing what they did, I have no faith in the supreme court doing anything right anymore. This was done for there own beliefs not ours.

    May 3, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  15. John

    Another casualty in the War Against Terror. How very sad for our free and open system of government that we now restrict access to a third of our Federal government.
    A true shame...

    May 3, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  16. Jerry

    The entrance is being closed because the muslims do not like this history of theis country, all haters

    May 3, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |