DOVER, Del. (AP) - Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine has ditched his basic black judicial robe for a gown makeover.
The recently minted chief justice has donned a more decorative judicial robe with two wide gold bars on each sleeve - not unlike a football jersey. Blue and gold neck trim accent the back.
According to court watchers, Strine just appeared one day in his new clothes. The cost for the new frock from England: $1,826.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Tim Giuliani of Graduate Affairs in Palm Springs, California, said about the decorative design Strine chose for his robe. Giuliani added he has been selling judicial robes for 30 years. “It’s puzzling.”
Strine’s robe is reminiscent of one worn by the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, which had four yellow stripes on the sleeves. The inspiration for Rehnquist’s robe was Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “Iolanthe.” According to his obituary in The New York Times, the robe was copied from a costume worn by the Lord Chancellor in a local production of the operetta.
Chief Justice John Roberts returned to basic black when he ascended into the position.
According to Stephen Taylor, court administrator with the Delaware Supreme Court, Strine’s gold shoulder stripes are a “distinction” for the office of the chief justice as head of the Delaware judiciary.
Former Chief Justice Myron Steele, whom Strine replaced, sported a robe with a cummerbund or wide belt that he wore over his robe and fastened in the back. Some said the belt made the robe look like a kimono.
“We did not think I could pull off the sash that Chief Justice Steele wore with panache and style,” Strine said through his spokeswoman Patricia Griffin, state court administrator.
The other justices have had a tasteful blue-and-gold trim - or the state’s colors - on the bottom of the sleeve. That decoration has been retained by Strine. Robes for the other justices cost $1,551 each, according to Taylor.
Strine’s inspiration for his gold bars came from his time on the Court of Chancery, according to Griffin. For more than a decade, the Chancery judges have worn two-toned gray and black robes, which are somewhat reminiscent of the tunics worn by the dominant species in the 1968 “Planet of the Apes” movie. The three-quarter-length sleeves on the Chancery legal dress led some to joke that it looked as though the manufacturer ran out of material.
According to Taylor, the basic design for the high court justices’ robes was set in 2004. Made in England of high-quality material, the robes are designed to last for the tenure of the justice, he said. Each justice would have only one robe for use at oral arguments and ceremonial events, such as oath of office ceremonies for elected officials, he said.
“Previously, it was not unusual for a justice to have two or more robes with one in Dover for oral arguments and one in their office chambers,” Taylor said. “In the past, robes often had to be replaced as the material faded over time.”
Both the Supreme and Chancery robes are made by Ede & Ravenscroft in London, which has supplied the robes to the royal family, from King William in 1689 to Queen Elizabeth II, according to its website.
The company, which also sells bench wigs, black court breeches, stockings and patent leather shoes with cut-steel buckles, says on its website that British legal dress has a rich history of traditions and symbolism.
The dress was developed from the lay dress of the medieval period, Ede & Ravenscroft says. To preserve the dignity of justice, judges and lawyers adopted costumes to convey the unchanging status and impartiality of justice, according to the website.
Still, robes vary greatly by state and country.
Judges on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, for example, have decorations that resemble tennis sweaters. In Canada, the robes for Supreme Court justices look like they came from Santa Claus’ closet.
Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.