The decision to close the front doors of the Supreme Court to visitors, announced Monday and enacted Tuesday, is no small tweak to the security arrangements of the nation's capital. It is not a minor detour on the tourist path nor a mere question of convenience, like deciding to enter through the garage door rather than trek around to the vestigial front porch. The closing of the front doors of the Supreme Court, like so many mindless decisions attributed to security concerns, is a grand affront -- architecturally, symbolically, politically. The decision will enforce new and unwanted meanings on one of the city's most dramatic and successful public buildings.The people who make these decisions don't seem to understand that architecture effects how people think and feel. To enter a building through a grand front entrance, passing great unlocked doors into marble halls, impresses something on our minds. The builders of our capital wanted to impress both visitors and participants with the grandeur of American government. The best government buildings, like the Capitol and the Supreme Court, feel both majestic and accessible. They are palaces, but not the palaces of kings. They are our palaces.
To have to enter government buildings through a hidden little side door that leads to a dark, utilitarian stairway impresses something on us, too. It feels furtive. It feels oppressive. It makes us feel as if the grand age of democracy is over, replaced by a dismal police state. It feels cowardly and weak. The omnipresent security guards, who always seem weary of their tedious work, reinforce the overall impression of fearful shabbiness.
To hell with the terrorists, and also with the people who are afraid of them. Open the doors, and live with the risk.