Letters of the Law

A Long History of Judicial Robes

In regard to the discussion in the Tennessee Bar Journal on judicial robes, I wanted to note that simple black robes have a long history and strong defenses. The first U.S. Supreme Court justices wore black and crimson robes and long wigs similar to those of their British counterparts. They abandoned the wigs and crimson after being followed by small boys in the street shouting, “Lobsters! Lobsters!” Plain black robes and no wigs became the norm for the court. And even though Tennessee judges did not commonly wear robes until the early 20th century, there is an account of Andrew Jackson doing so while conducting trials on circuit as a judge of Tennessee’s Superior Court in the 1790s.

Black robes are more than tradition in America, although tradition has value. While robes of various colors and trim may be in fashion in some courtrooms, the austere black robe symbolizes that on the bench a judge no longer has personal preferences or individuality of any relevance. Judges become the neutral and composed voice of the law. The black robe also conveys the seriousness and solemnity of the proceedings, proceedings where fortunes, reputations and lives can be saved or lost. These justifications are far more important than a judge having another opportunity for self-expression before a captive audience.
 

— Russell Fowler, Chattanooga
 

Serious Good Wishes

Note: This letter was written to Bill Haltom,who was the Journal’s humor columnist for 25 years. He retired in December 2018.

Thanks for your column in our bar journal magazine (as you now go out the door). As you say, you intended to veer your columns toward being light-hearted; that said, I never read anything in one of your columns, that if I put it into practice, made me a worse person toward my fellow man (and that’s not true of a lot of today’s syntactic screeds …). A personal favorite column (definitely a “keeper” with me) was your “Can We Talk?” column (June 2017), in which you lament how amongst all our electronic connectivity we seem to have gotten away from good ol’ face-to-face talking. “… [L]et’s enjoy each other’s company,” you wrote. Amen.

Familial communications aside, just as lawyers, let’s meet and hash problems out — not just unilaterally bombard each other’s inboxes with three-times-a-day/tag-you’re-it emails. (On that subject, I think there is a new book out, #Do Not Disturb, [?] that I want to read, as soon as I select my next set of materials to read — perhaps for the winter.)

Back to your column: no, you weren’t quite “Paine on Procedure,” but who has been? Those big shoes remain unfilled yet. With your writing and with what, I take it, you set out to do, you succeeded. You wrote things worth reading, even when for fun only, consistently providing our bar journal with quality content for a lot of years.

Serious good wishes to you as you now step away from “But Seriously, Folks.”

— Steve Jordan, Nashville

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