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Judicial Robes

You may be surprised to learn that Utah judges wear robes by tradition, not by law. It may also surprise you that Utah's Supreme Court justices first began wearing robes on the bench on March 21, 1938.

The minutes of the Utah Supreme Court session for that day record the remarks commemorating the occasion. W. Q. Van Cott, then-president of the Utah State Bar, said to the court:

"We believe you are commencing a wholesome and honorable custom which will persist."

Thurmanphoto.JPGRetired Chief Justice Samuel R. Thurman added:

"I am pleased to be permitted to see you in your robes this morning. It is a symbol of your high position. It, in a sense, differentiates you while you are on the bench from the rest of the members of the bar. It is a proper distinction, for of all offices in our state, that of the highest judicial body, in my estimation, commands more respect; and anything that adds to the respect or the dignity of the bench by way of symbol, I think is proper."

Follandphoto.JPGChief Justice William H. Folland replied:

"... the members of the Court are pleased to accede to the urgent request of the Bar to wear robes during sessions of the Court. Justices of appellate courts, I think in practically all common law countries and particularly in England for five hundred years, have followed this custom of wearing robes as a badge of judicial office.
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They are worn as a mark of honor and distinction, and aid the public as well as the wearer to know that it is the office rather than the person which is to be respected as those who administer justice."

The justices began wearing robes in response to a resolution passed by the Utah State Bar at its 1937 Annual Meeting, which read:

RESOLVED that the Judicial Council recommends to the State Bar that the State Bar of this State recommends and urges the Supreme Court Justices to wear Judicial robes at all court sessions.
The Bar also passed a resolution stating that district court judges should also wear judicial robes. It is unknown exactly when those judges began doing so.

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Sources:

  • Utah Supreme Court Minute Book 13 at 486-487 (March 21, 1938).
  • Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Meeting of the Utah State Bar 20 (1937). Note that the Judicial Council was a section of the Utah State Bar in 1937.

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