Clothed with authority

by Mike on 8/7/2010

in First We Kill All the Lawyers, Perpetual Beta : Release

What will Justice Kagan wear?

The famous David Lat points to a Slate article asking whether the newly-confirmed Justice Kagan will wear the frilly “jabot” neckpiece favored by other female justices O’Connor and Ginsburg, or if she’ll go the route Justice Sotomayor has taken and just pick discreet necklines under the robes.

Did you know that federal judges can wear anything they want? Slate notes:

U.S. Federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, can wear pretty much anything they like—they can even go in jeans and t-shirts—but the simple black robe has been de rigueur for those on the federal bench since the early 19th century.

Of course, given lifetime appointment during times of good behavior, there would be no legal consequence whatsoever if a judge chose to wear something other than robes – but they might subject themselves to critical opinions of the public, the bar, or other members of the judiciary. Former Chief Justice Rehnquist wore four stripes on the sleeves of his robe, inspired by a Gilbert & Sullivan opera, and there is perhaps no federal judge more famous for choice judicial attire. It earned him no small amount of scorn.

It seems that state court judges in Florida also have no formal requirement regarding judicial garb – although most don the traditional black robes, I have known at least one judge who wears a blue robe on the bench, and another who wears jeans under his robes. Unlike federal judges, state court judges in Florida are retained by election, so anyone who strays too far from tradition invites criticism and, in extreme cases, loss at the ballot box. However, I’m not aware of any Florida judge who’s ever lost an election due to choice of clothing.

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