Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Open Access
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Jerry Watkins, III
The presence of Confederate symbols and other reminders of white institutional power in courtrooms introduces a risk that impermissible factors such as implicit bias, conscious prejudice, and sympathy for white supremacy will harm litigants’ rights. I compiled data for 210 of 328 courts (64%) in the Commonwealth and found that there are more than 617 portraits on display in Virginia courtrooms. At least 357 portraits depict white men, six depict Black men, fifteen depict white women, and twenty-eight depict people who served in the Confederacy, either in the government or the Confederate States Army (CSA). At least fourteen different courts across the Commonwealth have one or more Confederate soldiers or symbols in their courtrooms. The built environment reflects the worldview of the community that created it, and the physical durability of landscapes ensures that those meanings carry forward and can influence future generations. Thus, it is critical that potential sources of bias, such as portraits, are removed from courtrooms. Tradition cannot be valued above perception if all people are to enjoy equal justice under law.
Miller, Lauren, "“A Sea of White Faces”: How Courtroom Portraits Undermine Justice in Virginia" (2022). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1784.