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In December of 2000, John Ashcroft was appointed Attorney General of the United States of America. As such, he hangs out in the Department of Justice a lot, especially in the Great Hall, where many press conferences take place.

In the Great Hall are two statues, named "the Spirit of Justice" and "the Majesty of Law", both created by Carl Paul Jennewein. "The Spirit" is a woman wearing a toga, with arms outstretched; "the Majesty" is a man facing her from across the hall. The statues have stood in the building for sixty-five years, ever since the building was completed.

"The Spirit" has been in the news recently because her toga only covers one of her breasts. That's right, folks, if you walk into the Department of Justice, you can see a big metal boobie.

That is, you used to be able to. In January of 2002, the Federal Government dropped $8,000 to purchase a set of blue curtains to hide the statue's breast from the watchful eyes of John Q. Public. The male statue was covered too, perhaps in the name of political correctness.

The statue has been a favorite backdrop for photographers wishing to get a picture of the Attorney General in his natural habitat. Ashcroft has held a few news conferences in the Great Hall, and there are many copies of photographs of the statue's slightly out-of-focus naked right breast next to Ashcroft's wrinkled, no-nonsense face (here's a great example from the BBC). It's not like Ashcroft got singled out for this, though — there are many photographs of "the Spirit" gracing the background as Attorney General (at the time) Edwin Meese announced a report on pornography in the 1980s.

It's unclear who made the decision to cover the statue, but many reporters pin it on one of Ashcroft's aides at the request of Ashcroft himself, who was reportedly tired of being photographed and videotaped in front of the "scantily-clad" statue.

Semi- and fully-nude women representing legal and ethical concepts have long been a part of American art and history. Another statue by Jennewein, "Darlington Fountain", appears in Judiciary Square and depicts a naked woman standing next to a deer. Several nude women appear in murals in the Capitol building, including a nude female angel standing next to the Original George Himself — and let's not even mention some of the works in the National Gallery (hundreds of which have the word "nude" in the title, I'm told).

(Sadly, no mention of this public indecency is mentioned on the DOJ's web site — even under the "What's Hot" link. Sigh.)

Despite our history of feminine nudity representing the very ideas America stands for, DOJ spokesman Shane Hix says the drapes were placed there to provide a nice backdrop for TV cameras.

I, for one, welcome our new mass-media overlords.


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