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A question for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan

May 12, 2010 |  9:00 am

West façade of the Supreme Court Building. (Franz Jantzen)
"Good morning, Solicitor General Kagan. Before we begin this hearing's inquiry into your substantive judicial views, I'd like to begin with another important question. It's about the genuine power of meaningful symbolism.

"Eight days ago, the front doors of architect Cass Gilbert's magnificent 1935 Supreme Court building were shut, deemed a danger to security. Entry by the public up the grand staircase is no longer allowed; instead, we are shuttled around through a back door.

"Gilbert chose a classical Corinthian architectural style for the building, to represent democratic foundations, and his majestic entry on the western facade directly faces Congress. 'The Republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith,' Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes said when the building's cornerstone was laid nearly 78 years ago, recognizing the force of equal justice for all in the national balance of power.The entry's 6 1/2-ton bronze doors, sculpted by John Donnelly Jr., feature scenes from legal history, beginning with a trial shown on Achilles' shield as described in Homer's Iliad.

" 'Writers and artists regularly use the steps to represent the ideal that anyone in this country may obtain meaningful justice through application to this Court,' wrote Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a joint statement objecting to the front doors' recent closure. 'In short, time has proven the success of Gilbert's vision: 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.'

"That important metaphor, crafted by architects and artists and used by Americans for generations, is now in shambles. In its place is an image of fear.

"So, my question to you Gen. Kagan is this: Do you support reopening the front doors of the United States Supreme Court to the people?"

-- Christopher Knight (follow me on Twitter @KnightLAT)

Photo: The western facade of the United States Supreme Court. Credit: Franz Jantzen