The following is a guest post by Donna Sokol, Special Assistant to the Law Librarian of Congress. Donna is your virtual docent for a series of posts related to themes of law in the art and architecture of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building. She has previously written on the mosaic vaults and paintings in the East Corridor, the mezzanine level of the Great Hall, and the Main Reading Room. In this installment, she explores further spaces that are dedicated to law.
Today, I take you truly off the beaten path and give you a sneak peek into the places that are not typically open for visitors to explore.
The south gallery is currently a space for revolving exhibits. While the public is certainly welcome to view the exhibits here, the space is configured so that one can only see half of the room. If you look up at the coffered ceiling, you will see a series of stained glass panels that bear the names of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The African and Middle Eastern Division reading room occupies the north gallery. The ceiling is similar to that of the south gallery’s, and the stained glass features the names of an assorted group of notables. Representing law are Lycurgus, Coke, Justinian, Blackstone, Montesquieu, Marshall, and Story.
Just behind the north gallery is a beautiful circular space called the Northeast Pavilion, or the Pavilion of the Seals. This is one of four such round rooms that anchor the corners of the Jefferson Building. The artist William Brantley Van Ingen painted the murals that depict the executive branch agencies: Department of the Treasury; Department of State; Department of Justice; Post Office Department; Department of Agriculture; Department of the Interior; War Department; and Navy Department.
On the Department of Justice mural, the scales of Justice stand in perfect balance. A seated female figure represents Lady Justice. She is wearing an ermine robe (traditional dress of the judiciary), holds the Code of Justinian in her right hand and a shield with the seal of the Department of Justice in her left hand. Beside her stands a young boy holding a measuring rod, symbolizing exact justice.
The gold inscription on the mural is a quote by Thomas Jefferson taken from his first inaugural address and reads:
Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political: peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliance with none.
It is quite possible that there was a mistake in the painting, in that the word “alliance” appears singular. The manuscript address says “alliances.”
Department of Justice Seal
The Department of Justice’s seal is depicted on the wall. What is interesting about the seal is that it is the original seal as it was adopted in 1872. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order (Exec. Order No. 6692) correcting the seal:
On a shield paleways of thirteen pieces argent and gules, a chief azure, an eagle rising and standing on the middle of the shield holding in his dexter talon an olive branch consisting of thirteen leaves and berries and in his sinister talon thirteen arrows, all proper. In an arc below the device the motto, “Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur.” On an annulet surrounding this device the words “Department of Justice” and three mullets, all contained within a corded edge.
You can see that the seal in the Jefferson Building shows the eagle holding in its right talon an olive branch with only 12 leaves and 2 berries and in its left talon only 3 arrows pointing right instead of down.
The motto inscribed on the seal translates to “Who prosecutes on behalf of justice” and is adapted from Coke’s Institutes, Part 3, folio 79. The original phrase in Latin – qui pro domina regina squitur – references the queen (“regina”) and was changed to justitia (“justice”) to better suit the American form of government.