In a decision symbolising access to justice in a world of fear, the US Supreme Court no longer allows visitors to enter through the front door.
Writing in the NT Times, Adam Liptak said: “For decades, people with cases before the court, their lawyers and those who just came to see the arguments have climbed the grand steps arrayed in front of the courthouse’s marble columns, passed under the inscribed words ‘Equal Justice Under the Law’ and walked through a passage flanked by two six-ton bronze doors that show historic scenes in the development of the law.”
Entry now is through ground-level side entrances under the stairs that lead visitors to “a secure, reinforced area to screen for weapons, explosives, and chemical and biological hazards,” according to the court information screed.
In one statement, Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that security concerns did not warrant the closing the front entrance. “To my knowledge, and I have spoken to numerous jurists and architects worldwide,” he said, “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.”
Visitors, once screened, will still be allowed to leave through the front door.
But the symbolic statement of forbidding entry, Justice Breyer said, was a momentous one. “This court’s main entrance and front steps,” he wrote, “are not only a means to, but also a metaphor for, access to the court itself.”