The Supreme Court has decided that you may no longer enter through its grand front portal, the essential feature of architect Cass Gilbert’s design. This is an extraordinarily bad idea, bad for the building, bad for Washington and bad for the country. I called for a line in the sand against this kind of security paranoia in today’s Washington Post, and outlined some of the grave consequences for the Court’s prestige.
This is not an architectural, aesthetic or security decision, isolated from the court’s larger function. The justices have called into question their own ability to rule impartially on cases that balance security concerns with constitutionally guaranteed liberties. The justices, with Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting, have made their priorities known, as clearly as if they had they had sold naming rights to the Great Hall to the highest corporate bidder. They stand on the side of security — a regime of absolute and irrevocable decisions often made by unelected officials and not subject to any meaningful public appeal. Beauty, architecture and the need for a democratic people to experience inspiring symbolic public space weigh lightly, if at all, in the scales.