It is a well-known fact that when a judge enters a courtroom everyone is told to rise.
That seems straightforward enough but have you ever wondered why?
Along the same lines have you ever thought about why judges wear black robes instead of another color or why judges have gavels?
If you have ever wondered about these or other things as to judges, the courtroom, or the law (or even if you haven’t), for this week’s column I’d like to share a few of our courtroom traditions and some legal history.
As to why everyone stands up, there are several explanations with the most common being that it is a sign of respect for the court and the judge as a representative of the legal system.
Another explanation comes to us from England when hundreds of years ago judges would carry a Bible, which represented the law, into the courtroom.
Why a judge’s robe is black is a tradition going back to when colonial judges wore plain black robes, which differed from the English judges’ colorful robes and ornate wigs. This American tradition is said to have originated because of Thomas Jefferson’s objection to the English judges’ attire as being “unnecessary pomp.”
A judge’s courtroom gavel finds its origin in 10th century Scandinavian mythology. It represents the hammer of the god Thor who was a patron of justice and is symbolic of Thor’s might and authority. In actual practice, judges rarely use it.
A judge sits at what is called a “bench.” Of course, it is really a large raised desk area with a chair. Historically this description was derived from the long seats or benches that judges used to sit on when presiding over court.
A courtroom is divided by a barrier between the place where people sit to watch the proceedings and where the judge and the attorneys are located. This barrier is also known as a bar and for many proceedings, only attorneys are allowed to cross it, hence the term “member of the bar.”
I’ll stop here and simply say that the law has many other rich traditions and a wonderful history. For those interested in learning more I suggest starting at the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society website.