Archive for September, 2004

The United States Supreme Court building is impressive on the outside, rather bland and uninspiring on the inside.

Friday, September 24th, 2004

In the tourist mode of visiting national buildings in Washington DC, I couldn’t help but reflect on the impact of the architecture, building materials, and mood of each as I went through them. My daughter
and I specifically wanted to go into the Supreme Court building, the setting of the life changing edicts handed down in judgments of cases brought before the court to test the validity of laws against the Constitution.

The decor of the building is very bland. Impressive photographs and paintings of past judges –  handsome, stern, sober men – adorn the corridors. A guided tour of the chamber where the cases are  heard brought out revealing information that I find disconcerting. The building architect, renown and revered, oversaw the building completed, under budget so much that the furnishings of the chamber and other rooms were purchased with money left over.

The designer used foreign stones and woods inside the chamber. Not a single inscription is anywhere to be seen. Certainly no indication of the heart of our laws or the heart of our democracy is visible to the judges as they listen to lawyers plead their cases from lower courts. No reminder of what is to be  considered the basis for the opinions handed down weekly. Outside the chamber United States
marbles, granites and woods are used. Well duh! They are American Judges, looking to secure our future democracy. I would have preferred some American influence, if only the words that shed tyranny of kings and religions, to inspire their thinking.

The judges see only blossoms, symbols of fertility, and friezes of figures in history and myths – reminders of what shaped civilization in centuries past. And if they are thoughtful about it at all – only lovely  marbles, granites, and wood from elsewhere in the world are there to inspire their contemplation. Now it seems reasonable that we should rely on the integrity and characters of these judges. We always have.  And we should continue to do so. But it seems to me that somewhere along the way there ought to be more visible reminders of the Constitution and its use as the foundation of our democracy and freedom.

Every human being is a product of heredity and environment. Woven into that development is the ideology that ultimately influences our minds. Judges are not immune. Every aid is sent to law libraries
to scour previous laws that will form a solid base for the final decisions. Ideology is no small part of the intent in search of the final decision. Democracy and original purpose of the Constitution becomes less and less the basis of decisions. Each decision is built on former laws set down by previous courts, sometimes lower court decisions.

If the best thing to be said about the Supreme Court building is that it was completed under budget and within schedule, I think the American people were shortchanged.