Tales from the Trail

U.S. Supreme Court closes front entrance, by 7-2 vote

May 3, 2010

The Supreme Court’s famous front entrance, at the top of its marble steps and under the words “Equal Justice Under Law,” will be closed to the public.

Starting Tuesday, visitors will no longer be able to enter the building through the front doors at the top of 44 marble steps on the plaza directly across from the U.S. Capitol. On days when there are arguments in major cases like abortion or free speech rights, the line to hear the arguments often stretches well beyond the plaza.

USA-COURT/SOTOMAYORInstead, visitors will enter the building through ground-level side doors, going through a new screening facility that has been built as part of the Supreme Court’s  modernization project.

“The entrance provides a secure, reinforced area to screen for weapons, explosives and chemical and biological hazards,” the court said in a statement by spokeswoman Kathy Arberg. Most government buildings and their surroundings have had added stepped-up security measures in recent years in a bid to thwart damage from potential terrorist attacks.

But Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, issued a separate statement that called the change unfortunate and unjustified.

“To my knowledge, and I have spoken to numerous jurists and architects worldwide, no other Supreme Court in the world — including those such as Israel’s that face security concerns equal to or greater than ours — has closed its main entrance to the public,” Breyer wrote.

“And the main entrances to numerous other prominent public buildings in America remain open,” he said.

Breyer added that he remained hopeful that at some point in the future the main entrance, seen as a symbol of meaningful access to equal justice under law, would be opened again to the public.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Molly Riley

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