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Traditions – United States Supreme Court

October 5, 2011
  • Black Robes:  Since at least 1800, it has been traditional for Justices to wear black robes while in Court.  In 1995, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, made the news when he added four gold stripes to the sleeves of his robe, reportedly in deference to a character in the operetta,  Iolanthe. 
  • Conference Handshake:  Since the days of Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller in the late 19th century, each Justice shakes hands with each of the other eight when the Justices assemble to go on the Bench and at the beginning of the private conferences at which they discuss decisions.  The practice serves as a reminder that differences of opinion on the Court do not preclude overall harmony of purpose.
  • Quill Pens:   Quill pens are placed on counsel tables each day that the Court sits, as was done at the earliest days of the Court.

Visit the library to read more about the history of the Supreme Court, for example, The Supreme Court:  An Essential History, by Peter Charles Hoffer, or I Dissent:  Great Opposing Opinions in Landmark Supreme Court Opinions, edited by Mark Tushnet.

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