In a triumph for security concerns over architectural symbolism, the U.S. Supreme Court has announced that visitors can no longer climb the famous marble steps and enter the building via its iconic front entrance. Ever since the Washington, D.C., building, designed by Cass Gilbert, was completed in 1935, the public has been able to pass under the famous words "Equal Justice Under Law," which are engraved above the court's double bronze doors. Now, visitors are required to use side entrances at each side of the steps.

Announced without warning on May 3 and put into effect a day later, the decision, which the Supreme Court said was based on two independent security studies, has prompted considerable criticism, not least from within the court. Justice Stephen Breyer, known for his interest in architecture, took the unusual step of issuing a memorandum explaining his opposition to the change. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg signed on in support. "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," Breyer wrote.

Cynthia Nikitin, vice president of the New York-based Project for Public Spaces, which has worked with the federal government to make buildings more accessible, denounced the decision in even stronger terms. The court has "slammed the door literally and figuratively on what should be a well-thought-out process," she said.