Is the Supreme Court Moving to the National Mall?

supreme-court-on-mall2a.bmpI was reading a Washington Post article about plans to expand the Mall in Washington DC because of all the clutter from new monuments, museums, and memorials. On this page, the Post has a few visions for the new expanded Mall, which would utilize East Potomac Park. I was quite surprised when I read the caption at the top of the drawings:

Architects have responded to a call for ideas on expanding the Mall, particularly into East Potomac Park, with visions of plazas, museums, a new Supreme Court building, stores — and beaches.

Many people’s first reactions might be: Beaches? In Washington, DC? But I’m a law nerd, so my reaction was: A new Supreme Court building? On the Mall?

Sure enough, one of the proposals has a new Supreme Court building sitting not too far from the Jefferson Memorial. I’m not too keen on this idea.

First, I think that the current Supreme Court building is glorious, and I wonder whether we really need a new Supreme Court building. As Jason Mazzone notes, the Court certainly hasn’t been expanding its workload of late, so why would it need more space?

Second, I wonder whether the new location is a commentary on the Supreme Court. Instead of its current location behind the Capitol, it will sit rather isolated in a place near memorials. Is this insinuating that the Court has become isolated and aloof, sitting on an island practically all by itself? Is it insinuating that the Court has become an historical relic, something that mattered once in the past but that is now relegated to serving largely as a memorial?

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6 Responses

  1. Hopeless 1L says:

    Professor Solove,

    Apparently this is an old idea: The 1901 McMillan Plan for Washington “proposed several things. First, South Capitol Street would become a Mall extension, lined with memorials and museums, and culminating in a new Supreme Court building on the Anacostia waterfront. The placement of the Supreme Court here, argued the NCPC and the Architect of the Capitol, would better symbolically represent the separation of the three branches of government than does the Court’s present location in the shadow of the Capitol.”

  2. Bruce says:

    This post reminds me of the classic Simpsons episode:

    Lisa: Mr. Jefferson, my name is Lisa Simpson, and I have a problem.

    Jefferson: I know your problem. The Lincoln Memorial was too crowded.

    Lisa: Sorry, sir. It’s just…

    Jefferson: No one ever comes to see me. I don’t blame them. I never did anything important. Just the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, the dumbwaiter…

    Lisa: Uh, maybe I should be going. I’ve caught you at a bad time… [leaves]

    Jefferson: Wait! Please don’t go. I get so lonely…

  3. Nathan Mark Smith says:

    Well if we’re going to make them go to all the trouble of packing up, why not move the Court to, say, Denver?

  4. ralph says:

    The court actually needs more space and is in the process of expanding. I doubt anyone is going to buy a proposal to move the court out of its present home.

  5. Will Baude says:

    I would have thought this could be a symbol of the court’s desires to separate itself out from politics and return to the understandings of those who created our constitution.

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