Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Ashcroft
Courtyard Re-Opening Ceremony July 25, 2002
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates from Prepared Remarks)
Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be with you today as we rededicate this beautiful Courtyard. I am pleased to be joined by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, and Albert Hawkins, who serves the President as Secretary to the Cabinet. I want to thank especially Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman Patrick Kennedy for being with us today. Thank you also to all the other members of Congress who have taken the time to come and be a part of this special occasion.
Sixty-eight years ago, another crowd gathered in this very courtyard to dedicate this building, which we now know as the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building. At that time, the courtyard was known as the “‘A’ Court.” On the afternoon of October 25, 1934, this fountain area served as a platform for Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members, Postmaster General James A. Farley, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They joined Homer Cummings, the 55th Attorney General of the United States, to celebrate and to dedicate this place, which Attorney General Cummings rightly described as a “magnificent edifice.”
This “‘A’ Court” is roughly the size of a city block, and has since become known as the “Great Court.” In the days before air conditioning and fluorescent lighting, the architects of the Department of Justice designed this and four other, smaller courtyards in order to provide natural light and ventilation to the offices. Despite its centrality, it attracted few employees and was not viewed as a meeting space until the 1960s, when Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy installed picnic tables. I have even heard that his wife, Ethel Kennedy, had music piped in to liven up the place – but that ended when employees on the first floor could not take it anymore and needed their quiet back.
This Great Court is again beautiful and welcoming, and it is my hope that Justice employees will enjoy it to the fullest. As I have passed through this courtyard on several occasions recently, I have glanced up at the inscription above the entrance. Alongside the scales of justice are the words “Privilegium Obligatio,” or “Where there is a privilege, there is an obligation.” It is fitting that these words should grace the entranceway to this courtyard, which has sometimes been referred to as the “Court of Honor.”
We have the honor and the privilege of being stewards of justice. With this privilege comes an obligation to uphold and defend the freedoms of all Americans. Today, perhaps more than at any time in our history, it is vital that we pursue this obligation vigorously, for justice has enemies in the world. Her defense is more than an intellectual exercise or an academic pursuit; it is the calling of our time.
At the dedication ceremony sixty-eight years ago, Attorney General Cummings said of this building: “May its doors never be closed to those who would do justice, or to those who suffer from injustice.” It is our obligation – and our great privilege – to see that the vision of Attorney General Cummings is fulfilled. As we rededicate this courtyard today, we also reaffirm our commitment to upholding the American justice tradition that strives to bring protection to the weak, freedom to the restrained, and security to all.
Thank you very much. I have one last obligation here today – and that is to charge the fountain.
There is a verse in the book of Amos that says, “Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never failing stream.” We may not have a river here today, but we will let justice roll on like a mighty fountain.
God bless you, and God bless America.