January 25, 2002
Halls of Justice: A Weekly Look
Inside the Justice Department
By Beverley Lumpkin
W A S H I N G T O N, Jan. 25 -- About three weeks ago, I received a tip.
The attorney general was fed up with having his picture taken during
events in the Great Hall in front of semi-nude statues.
He had ordered massive draperies to conceal the offending figures. But
initially not only could the story not be confirmed -- it was strongly
denied. As some of you may know the Justice Department building was
constructed during the 1930s as a WPA project, completed in 1934. The
artwork and fittings were strongly influenced by the Art Deco movement.
Much of the ornamentation in the building is made of aluminum, apparently
a big Art Deco feature.
The Great Hall is basically what it sounds like -- a large, even grand,
two-story room used for department events and ceremonies. The formal
entrance up a winding stairway is adorned with murals depicting great
figures in the history of law, including Moses, Hammurabi, and John
At the opposite end of the hall, on either side of the stage, are two
enormous and stylized but largely naked aluminum statues. On the left, the
female figure represents the Spirit of Justice; the male on the right is
the Majesty of Law. The male is clad in only a cloth draped over his
essential parts; the female wears a sort of toga-style garment, but one
breast is entirely exposed. She's been fondly referred to for years by at
least some as "Minnie Lou."
And she's the one the photographers seek out. The most famous pictures of
all were shot when former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese proudly
released the final report of his commission on pornography. No one in the
Great Hall that day could ever forget the spectacle of the still
photographers writhing on the floor, flat on their backs, in order to grab
the shot of Meese holding up the porn report with Minnie Lou's breast over
So there were some who wondered how Attorney General John Ashcroft, known
as a strongly religious and conservative man, would get along with the
figures once he became attorney general.
For a long time he didn't seem to mind. But last November he and Deputy
Attorney General Larry Thompson staged a major event in the Great Hall, to
announce their plans for restructuring the Justice Department to address
the new challenge of fighting terrorism. Many papers the next day used a
photo of the attorney general with -- you guessed it -- Minnie Lou and
that breast right over his shoulder.
According to my original tipster, that was the final straw for Ashcroft,
and he ordered that the statues henceforth be draped.
Public affairs people however denied any such thing. They stoutly
maintained that the attorney general had never complained and that no
draperies had been ordered. They pointed out that periodically, through
different administrations, draperies were sometimes rented for particular
They noted that former spokeswoman Mindy Tucker always hated the statues;
Mindy told me Thursday it was her view that half the women in the
department were offended by them and the other half considered them art.
Well, I guess this is a lot of background to get to the point: the
draperies have in fact been ordered. Minnie Lou and her mate now can only
be imagined. The draperies installed last week at a cost of just over
<b>And it turns out that they were indeed ordered by someone in the attorney
general's office, who delivered the request to the Justice Management
Division and asserted it was the attorney general's desire. I'm told she
was the only person in the attorney general's office who knew about it.
She's his advance person, and she said it was done for "aesthetic
purposes" -- she just thought it would look better when staging events in
the Great Hall.</b>
So now it appears that rather than making an occasional appearance, the
draperies are here to stay -- unless and until someone has the temerity to
request an event without them.