The International Law of Building Security?

by Shannen W. Coffin

The Supreme Court announced today that its majestic front entrance would, upon completion of renovations, be closed to public entry (though open for exit), with a new more secure entrance opening in its place. The decision drew a written dissent of sorts from Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, who lamented that the current entrance represents “the ideal that anyone in this country may obtain meaningful justice through application to this Court.”

I don’t wish to quibble with the justices’ views, since it is indeed lamentable (though often understandable) when security concerns trump access. Instead, I wanted to highlight my sheer delight that, even in this context, Breyer (joined by Ginsburg) turns to international law for guidance in his opinion. He notes in closing, without hint of irony (or self-awareness): “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.” The role of international legal opinion in architectural decisions is sure to play a role in the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

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