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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 7, 2010

A side-door approach to justice

Some may have missed the news or dismissed it as a more symbolic than substantive change. But symbols have meaning, and the meaning of this change is a sad testament to our times.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that visitors to the courthouse will no longer be let in the front door. Starting Tuesday, lawyers, litigants and spectators are being detoured to ground-level entrances for security screening.

Only a few days since the most recent terrorist bombing attempt, it's a defensible decision, but it reflects poorly on our democracy. Among the powerful aspects of the Supreme Court building are the imposing front steps leading to those massive bronze doors. Besides elevating the concept of "justice for all" in a physical sense, they also give everyone more than conceptual access. Want justice? Come right in.

At least, that's how it used to be before security trumped public access. Coincidentally, among the last to come in the front were sovereignty activists Leina'ala Fruean and Leon Siu, whose photos appeared in The New York Times.

Fortunately, the renovation of the Prince Kūhiō Kalaniana'ole Federal building and Courthouse in Honolulu will preserve some sense of open access to the public along with its needed security upgrades. The separate checkpoints for the offices and courthouse will be pulled together into a pavilion between the buildings, a much more efficient operation than the makeshift one in place today.

It's no small matter that people in Hawai'i will still have their entree to federal justice through the front door.

We look forward to the day when our nation is sufficiently secure and unafraid to reopen the front doors of its Supreme Court.