I never consciously realized until tonight, when I was reading yet another derisive comment about judges that mentioned their robes, just how important those garments seem to be in the minds of the judiciary's critics. It's a bipartisan tendency, too: Cass Sunstein scorns rightwing Radicals in Robes; Nelson Lund fears the Politicians in Robes. Maybe it's because the robes we keep on hand for mock trial judges are so crappy, but I don't think of robes as vastly dignifying. I had to tote back one that was borrowed from the dean's office, and though it was warm, it also had an odor of perspiration rather at odds with Olympian remove.
The Daily Show team's depiction of the naked Supreme Court offers the reader the opportunity to "Restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe." Aside from Rehnquist's gold band, O'Connor's starched ruff and Ginsburg's antique kerchief, the robes are identical, whereas the justices' pasted bodies are as varied as their jurisprudence. Perhaps those for whom the robe, with its connections to the ecclesiastical courts, canon law and religious authority, creates an aura of undeserved prestige for judges, would be better off simply thinking of these judges in the nude. It's page 99 of America (the Book), which picture predates the advent of Chief Justice John Roberts, who has said, "Judges wear black robes because it doesn't matter who they are as individuals. That's not going to shape their decision. It's their understanding of the law that will shape their decision."