The Tragic End of Wigs
I am deeply saddened to learn that the British judiciary and legal professional will be abandoning wigs and gowns for civil litigation (although the fancy dress will remain — for the time being — in criminal trials). There are lots of ways of thinking about this tragedy. For example, one might see it as the creeping triumph of Thomas Jefferson — the fiend who nixed wigs for the American legal profession. My own sense is that it is a further demystification of the law and a move to conceptualize courts as simply another bureaucracy and the legal profession as just another job. I am opposed.
Of course, since at least Holmes it has be de rigeour for American legal intellectuals to treat the mystification of the law as nothing more than obfuscating nonsense. We are all for hard-headed realism about laws, judges, and lawyers. There is much to be said for this, but it think that it dramatically under estimates the importance of tradition, ritual, and mystique in contributing to judicial legitimacy. I also think that rituals are not simply for the hoi polloi. They also have a salutory effect on those who participate. I’ve heard more than one judge talk of the emotional and intellectual burden they feel when donning the judicial robe. This is good. I think that our judges are better for frequent, tactile reminders of their special role. I think that the American legal profession is weaker for lack of similar rituals and sacred clothing. Being required to dress up for a certain role is likely to concentrate the mind more fully on the role. Plus, barrister’s garb just looks cool.
Shame on the English.