WASHINGTON — With barely a word about it, workers at the Justice Department Friday removed the blue drapes that have famously covered two scantily clad statues for the past 3 1/2 years.
Spirit of Justice, with her one breast exposed and her arms raised, and the bare-chested male Majesty of Law basked in the late afternoon light of Justice’s ceremonial Great Hall.
The drapes, installed in 2002 at a cost of $8,000, allowed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to speak in the Great Hall without fear of a breast showing up behind him in television or newspaper pictures. They also provoked jokes about and criticism of the deeply religious Ashcroft.
The 12-foot-6-inch aluminum statues were installed shortly after the building opened in the 1930s.
With a change in leadership at Justice, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced the question: Would they stay or would they go?
He regularly deflected the question, saying he had weightier issues before him.
Paul R. Corts, the assistant attorney general for administration, recommended the drapes be removed and Gonzales signed off on it, spokesman Kevin Madden said, while refusing to allow the Associated Press to photograph the statues Friday.
In the past, snagging a photo of the attorney general in front of the statues has been somewhat of a sport for photographers.
When former Attorney General Edwin Meese released a report on pornography in the 1980s, photographers dived to the floor to capture the image of him raising the report in the air, with the partially nude female statue behind him.
The first attorney general to use the blue drapery was Republican Richard Thornburgh, attorney general under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He had the drapery put up only for a few occasions when he was appearing in the Great Hall, rather than permanently installed as it was under Ashcroft.
Most news conferences now are held in a state-of-the-art conference room, although the Great Hall still hosts speeches and other special events.