Judicial architecture and iconography play important roles in the symbolic lives of courts. Political scientists have noted that symbols of justice, judicial objectivity, and neutrality convey to the public “legitimizing messages” about the judiciary. In the United States these legitimizing symbols frequently expressed themselves through the temple-like attributes of courthouses. Modern architects, however, have rejected this classic paradigm and replaced it with dignified, yet open, edifices. The Israeli Supreme Court building, dedicated in 1992, is an outstanding example of such innovative design. Its emblems of legitimacy include historical, religious, and judicial symbolism. Within a comparative framework, this article explores the unique architectural images of Israel's high court and argues that they may help it to survive the fractious Israeli political milieu into which the tribunal has inserted itself.
The symbolism of judicial structures can convey voluminous messages about classic themes in the study of law, history, and politics. Judicial images reflected in court architecture and art may reveal the importance of the rule of law, judicial independence, and judicial power in a political and legal culture. The physical manifestations of a court structure, and how they are transmitted to the public, may also influence media and other public perceptions of tribunals, judges, and their decisions. The architecture of the Israeli Supreme Court building, which opened to rave reviews in 1992, adds two other facets to this mix, namely, religion and historic location.