Friday, September 4, 2009

But what will Justice Sotomayor wear?

UPDATE: 09-09-09

For a photo of Justice Sotomayor (with Justice Ginsburg) on her first day on the bench, see SCOTUS BLOG here.

Forget judicial philosophy; enter the issue of judicial robes.

The Washington Post, in an article by Robert Barnes relating to changes and collegiality on the Court published today, reports on an interview with retired Justice O'Connor:

And O'Connor spoke of an age-old problem: what to wear. "I didn't know anybody who made robes for women justices, and I think most of what was available was something like a choir robe or an academic robe." She ended up wearing a plain black one from her days as a judge in Arizona -- and then was criticized for not wearing some sort of judicial collar underneath it.

She recalled a note from someone who said she "looked like a washed-out justice."

The article continues:

Ginsburg showed off a lace collar she said was from South Africa. "You know, the standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie," Ginsburg said. "So Sandra Day O'Connor and I thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman. So I have many, many collars."

Picture 1

Although the attention for women justices may seem excessive, male judges also have choices in terms of their judicial attire. Justice Rehnquist adopted wearing stripes on his judicial robe. 

Moreover, as in other types of clothing, there are levels of luxury.  It seems, if one is to believe an article from several months ago by Erika Lovely, that there is a "Lamborghini of judicial gowns," a custom-made J-71 by the Bentley and Simon company in Virginia.   Justice Alito wears one, reportedly with silk sleeves, a gift from his alma mater.  And it seems that now-Justice Sotomayor already has one, purchased when she was appointed to the Second Circuit. 

So although the judicial robe, like other uniforms, is supposed to shift attention away from the individual in favor of the "office" the uniform conveys, there is still much attention on the person.   And perhaps this attention is magnified when the person in question is the third woman and first Latina/o on the highest court of the United States?


(with thanks to Adam Francouer, CUNY Law Student, class of 2011).

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