Security Theater Comes to the Supreme Court


No more walking into the courthouse through the front door for visitors to the Supreme Court:

Beginning tomorrow, the Supreme Court announced today, the public will no longer be able to enter the Court’s building by the main entrance at the top of the steps on the front. Citing security concerns, the Court said two new entrances beside the steps will now be the public’s main point of entry into the courthouse. The decision provoked what amounted to dissents from two Justices — Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (although they did not call their remarks a formal dissent). The two Justices, while acknowledging the security issues, noted that no other supreme court in the world has shut down its front entrance.

For me the key thing to keep in mind here is that it’s not very plausible to think that heightening security at public buildings decreases the overall quantity of nutters & terrorists. If you harden the Capitol such that al-Qaeda can’t hit it, that just pushes the risk across the street to the Supreme Court. Harden the Supreme Court and maybe they try for the Department of Justice. Increasing security at every single government office building and significant public venue across the board will achieve something, of course, but at great cost. And even so, you might just blow up a shopping mall.

Meanwhile, I wonder if folks will complain about Breyer & Ginsburg citing foreign precedent here? I think it’s actually a great example of the possible relevance of foreign court decisions to legal reasoning—not that Canadian practice has legal force in the United States, but that international comparisons help establish context in a way that can illuminate issues.