SCOTUS Seals the Front Door, Visitors will have to enter through Side Door. Breyer dissents with balancing test, cites International Law

May 3rd, 2010

The entrance to the Supreme Court is majestic. But due to security concerns, the Court has decided to close the front doors. Now, visitors will have to enter through the back door.

Curiously, Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Ginsburg, issued a “Statement Concerning the Supreme Court’s Front Entrance.” This basically amounts to a dissent.

And in classic Breyer-Balancing mode, he attempts to weigh the security interests involved.

We certainly recognize the concerns identified in the two security studies that led to this recent decision (which reaffirmed a decision made several years ago). But potential security threats will exist regardless of which entrance we use. And, in making this decision, it is important not to undervalue the symbolic and historic importance of allowing visitors to enter the Court after walking up Gilbert’s famed front steps.

In other words, he doesn’t really care about what professional security analysts say, since he decided that the aesthetics and grandeur of architecture outweigh those concerns.

I think it is somewhat simplistic to note that security threats are different at different exits. I know very little about security, but an entrance right off of First Street, and an entrance on the side street, have different levels of accessibility.

And in an ode to transnationalism, Justice Breyer sees fit to turn to the laws of other nations to inform his decision.

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.
I will be sad to see those great doors sealed, but  I think a dissent here is kinda odd. Not even Stevens or Sotomayor joined.