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Noah Feldman

Who Needs Black Robes? Not Judges

The Florida Supreme Court opts for uniformity and misses the point.
Dressed to impress.

Dressed to impress.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Bloomberg

Starting in the new year, judges in Florida can wear robes in any color they want -- so long as that color is black. The state Supreme Court seems to have adopted the new rule -- which also prohibits any robe embellishment -- because of a judge who wore a camouflage robe, which some litigants thought signaled his identity as a good ol’ boy, thereby undercutting public confidence in the judiciary.

Concern for the symbolic integrity of the courts is a perfectly acceptable reason to require uniformity. But the all-black rule isn’t strictly necessary to achieve that goal. The choice to enact it raises questions about how professional uniforms enhance mystique and authority and suppress individuality. And it implicates one of the deepest fashion questions of this or any time: Just what is it about the color black?