No one has ever asked me the question: “how come government spends so much money building such beautiful and elaborate courthouses?” I’m not sure I could have ever given a good answer to that question if asked, and since I am both a lawyer and a taxpayer too, I feel I should have an answer. I certainly would think about that question from time to time whenever I happened to be in a newly constructed court building, especially federal court, and marveled at the well appointed surroundings. By the way, if you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Bruce Thompson Federal Courthouse on the corner of Virginia and Liberty Streets in Reno, or the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas, you should take a stroll around. Suffice it to say, they are beautiful works of architecture with granite exteriors, marble floors and mahogany wood walls that would duly impress anyone.
I tried looking up how much it cost to construct these buildings (I figure they cost quite a bit), but I got tired of searching. I know the info is out there somewhere in the internet, but knowing how many millions of tax dollars it took to build the various state and federal courthouses might just make me upset, so I abandoned my search. But it still has me thinking, why so beautiful? Why so ornate? Why so much?
Well after thinking about it a bit here is my answer; not “the” answer… just mine. I often tell clients and friends that the legal system wouldn’t exist if people didn’t do three things: one, lie and be dishonest; two, fail to keep their promises and agreements that they make to others; and three, harm others physically or take from others that which does not belong to them. Simple as that. In essence, those three “human failings” are the cause of most disputes between people and courthouses simply exist to provide a forum for dispute resolution.
Okay, so then why not have an open public square, like a park? Hash things out there? Why the big, beautiful and expensive buildings? Well, I suspect its because of the notions we all say we would like to aspire to, or at least hold out as virtuous, that speak to those three concerns. We seek out and search for those notions when “wrongs” are done, and it’s in our human nature to want them materialized in the face of “wrongs” done. To address dishonesty, we seek truth. To address failures to keep promises, we seek accountability and honor. To address taking and harm, we seek justice.
Truth, honor, and justice. Three principles that should survive us if our species is to survive beyond us. Principles that we should pass on to our progeny. Perhaps these beautiful buildings are made to last as symbols for principles that transcend our every existence (or, at least from an ethical or moralistic philosophical perspective should)? Perhaps they should last, and they should out live us and stand for as long as possible. I guess that makes sense to me now, because as important as principles of truth, honor and justice are to our very existence, the umbrella over those three, in my opinion, is hope. Those beautiful courthouses are symbols of hope; built to last.
Hope for truth. Hope for honor. Hope for justice.