The Ottumwa Courier

Court Calls

June 6, 2011

Why does a judge wear a black robe?

OTTUMWA — The tradition of judges wearing black robes goes back several centuries, and the origin of this practice isn’t clear. Perhaps the best accepted theory is that the custom of wearing a robe started in England, with the death of Queen Mary II in 1694. British judges appeared at her funeral dressed in black as a sign of mourning.

The mourning period lasted for several years after Queen Mary’s death, and by that time the practice of wearing a black robe was well established.

Fast forward to America during the Revolutionary period. Many of the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, wanted nothing to do with traditions that reminded them of the English aristocracy and the trappings of power and influence. Others, such as John Adams, wanted to maintain some such traditions from the mother country. Eventually, the two sides reached a compromise: “No” to long, white, powdered wigs, and “yes” to black robes.

The styles and sometimes even the colors of judicial robes have changed gradually over the years. Robes have become simpler in design and not every judge wears a robe for every proceeding. Modern judges often obtain their robes from the same companies that manufacture choir robes. This fact may explain why some judges now opt for brighter colors, rather than the traditional black. Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist wore a black robe with gold stripes, a fashion he adopted after playing the part of a judge in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

Whatever the style or color, the ritual of donning the robe reminds the judge that he or she is taking on a role larger than self. This ritual is further a reminder of the oath all judges take to be fair and impartial. A judge wearing the black robe is engaged in the serious business of doing justice to the best of his or her ability.

Judge Gamon serves as a District Court Judge in Iowa’s 8-A Judicial District, and maintains her chambers in Ottumwa. This public-service message is part of a series from area judges, relating to the administration of justice. Judge Gamon may be contacted at lucy.gamon@iowacourts.gov

1
Text Only
Court Calls
  • 0824 Court Calls photo Scieszinski -M -T The reach of sociology Every year Iowa judges are invited to speak in local schools, on college campuses and at civic events to help the community understand the role of the courts in daily life. An interesting trend on my circuit of judicial outreach is the demand for pre

    August 23, 2013 1 Photo

  • Good news By Chief Judge Mary Ann Brown The Iowa Judicial Branch dedicates itself to providing independent and accessible forums for the fair and prompt resolution of disputes, administering justice under law equally to all people. -- Iowa Judicial Branch Mis

    July 27, 2013

  • 0622 OTT Opinion Judge Lucy Gamon photo -T -L The judge as gatekeeper when the goal is justice "… no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Constitution of the United States, Amendment 4 It is 2 a.m. on a dar

    June 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0608 OTT Judge Joel Yates photo -L Who was James Otis? Most Americans can associate some names with our country's fight for independence from the English Monarchy, which began in earnest in 1775: Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams. Few, if any, would credit James Otis. Here is why they should. It

    June 8, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0529 OTT Opinion Judge Annette Scieszinski photo A different kind of cyber threat The reality is, that in our country's culture, people depend on electronic devices. For many, it's become a 24/7 relationship. Sometimes I wonder where it will lead us, and if coming generations will be born with advanced dexterities to instinctively

    May 29, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0511 OTT Opinion Judge Myron Gookin -T -M We never really graduate It's May, and the graduation announcements are rolling in. It's a wonderful time to celebrate the educational achievements of those who are graduating from various schools. It did not take me long, however, to realize that learning does not end with

    May 11, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0425 Opinion Judge Mary Ann Brown photo -L Spring brings magistrate commissions Hopefully, spring color will soon be here. It seems like it's been a long time coming. This spring also brings with it the process associated with selecting judicial magistrates. Local commissions have begun the process of taking applications, interv

    April 25, 2013 1 Photo

  • The kind of judge I will be

    April 6, 2013

  • Selecting a new judge

    March 16, 2013

  • Symbolism and functionality

    March 2, 2013

Obituaries
Record
Facebook
AP National