Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Federal Courthouses Should Command Respect.

Our Federal government has spent itself into a huge gaping hole.

There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth as scape-goats are sought to be slaughtered as offerings on the alter of public opinion.

We can see an example of this happening now with a new report that has come out that complains about the costs of building Federal Courthouses.

See: Building oversize federal courts wastes millions

Federal courthouses built larger than necessary have cost taxpayers $835 million in wasted construction funds since 2000 while the extra space requires $51 million annually to maintain, the Government Accountability Office told a congressional committee on Tuesday.

The GAO found that the 33 courthouses or courthouse annexes completed in the past decade contain 3.56 million square feet of unnecessary space, said Mark L. Goldstein, the GAO's director of physical infrastructure issues.

Larger than necessary? That is the value judgment of someone that does not understand the role of the courthouse in making the law worthy of respect.

Should a Federal Courthouse be a grand and impressive structure? Or should it be a cheap and unremarkable building?

This is not a trivial mater.

Some may argue that over-sized and overbuilt courthouses are a waste of money. They make a serious if not a fatal mistake when the think this.

The over-sized courthouse, with its high ceilings, stone walls and polished marble floors set the stage for the ritual, the ceremony, the drama and the consequence of the law. People's lives and property are at stake in these buildings. In such halls, people's fortunes are saved or destroyed. Even their very lives can be at stake, balanced on the fulcrum of evidence and the rod of the law, with their freedom or death to be decided by judge and jury.

There is a certain stage-craft to the law. It must command respect. Its edifices and facilities should and really must convey to those that are made to stand before it in judgment and appeal, the full majesty of the law as well as the might and authority of the state.

There is ritual and ceremony in the adjudication of the law. There is also the stage that the ceremony and the ritual is set. The ceremony, the ritual and the stage make the legal process stand apart and separate from the everyday events of working, shopping or playing that we all engage in our daily lives. The seriousness of the ritual, the ceremony and the stage that the law is dispensed in can help make it respectable, or help make it a farce.

Think about what a different perception we would have of the law if it was dispensed from triple-wide mobile-home type structures. Can you picture it? Imagine the nine justices of the Supreme Court trying to be taken seriously in a low ceilinged room with plastic coated fake wood paneling.

The law must be respected. Having it dispensed from buildings that scream “cheap” and “disposable” does not make the government that it represents worthy of respect.

Our government is not going broke because it is building grand courthouses. It is going broke because it has turned away from being a protector of rights to a dispenser of welfare benefits. The welfare state is bleeding us dry, not over-sized courthouses.

This may seem like a small thing to some people, but it is not a small thing.

Again, think about how much respect you would have for a court system that was run from disposable buildings. How can you take the legal system of a government seriously that thought its laws should be adjudicated in courthouses that were no more impressive or respectable than trailers in a mobile-home park?

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