Supreme Court closing iconic front entrance

Monday, May 3, 2010 - 1:16pm

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court is closing its iconic front entrance beneath the words "Equal Justice Under Law."

Beginning Tuesday, visitors no longer will ascend the wide marble steps to enter the 75-year-old building. Instead, they will be directed to a central screening facility to the side of and beneath the central steps that was built to improve the court's security as part of a $122 million renovation.

Two justices, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, called the change unfortunate and unjustified.

Breyer said no other high court in the world, not even Israel's, has closed its front entrance over security concerns.

He said the main entrance and front steps "are not only a means to, but also a metaphor for, access to the court itself."

Breyer, joined by Ginsburg, issued an unusual statement that read almost like a dissenting opinion. It was made public at the same time as a press release from the court announcing the change.

Other justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, have spoken fondly of being able to walk up the steps and through the 1,300-pound bronze doors at the center of the court's columned entryway. Justice Anthony Kennedy told C-SPAN last year that the steps and the words, written by building architect Cass Gilbert, were intended to inspire visitors and justices alike.

The court said the new entrance grew out of two independent security studies in 2001 and 2009.

It also noted that visitors still may exit through the central doors and walk down the 44 steps to the street.