Supreme Court Closes Its Doors

Supreme Court

Today is the last day that visitors to the Supreme Court will be able to walk up the majestic marble front steps and pass under the stirring words, "Equal Justice Under Law," to enter the imposing building. As part of a major renovation, the Court has decided for security reasons to close the front doors to the public and make visitors and lawyers use a side door.

If that strikes you as ridiculous, you're not alone. Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote a "dissent" of sorts, calling the decision "unfortunate," "dispiriting," and unjustified by security concerns.

Breyer did his research. He traced the history of the Court's design and its 44 marble steps, which he called a "symbol of dignified openness and meaningful access to equal justice under the law." Closing the front doors, he said, would "undervalue the symbolic and historic importance" of allowing visitors to enter the Court up its famed front steps.

"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," Breyer wrote.

He also did some reporting. "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.

Breyer said that he recognized the concerns identified in two separate security studies, which led to the decision, but said "potential security threats will exist regardless of which entrance we use."

Visitors will still be able to exit through the front doors and walk down the steps as they leave the building. But that, Breyer said, is not the same.

  • Jan Crawford On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.