Tuesday, September 15, 2009

High Fashion in the High Court

Last week brought the debut Supreme Court appearances of Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The case before the court (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) has been closely watched, coincidentally centering on another national female leader, Hillary Rodham Clinton and the use of corporate funds in distributing a disparaging film about her during the 2008 Democratic primary presidential campaign.

Beyond the case, however, some (including me) were watching to see what the two new women on the Supreme Court scene were wearing.

There is no doubt that it is cliché and tired for women’s clothing or hair to be an item of note during substantive, important situations. However, both women clearly knew that their clothing would be noticed, so were admittedly thoughtful in their choices.

Kagan decided to challenge the tradition of the role of Solicitor General wearing morning jacket to court. Not only that – she went with a (gasp, shock!) pant suit. The law is so conservative, that a usually unspoken rule for women dressing for court is to wear a skirt suit.

Well done, Kagan. (See What Color Was Her Pantsuit? from Above the Law for another take on Kagan's outfit choice.)

For Justice Sotomayor, the only real question was what her judicial collar would look like. While described in the press as “more table-runner to Ginsburg's lacy doily,” it also was thoughtfully symbolic. (What does it say about society that Ginsburg’s is referred to as a grandmotherly doily?)

A gift from Justice Ginsburg, the collar was made in Quebec. Ginsburg enjoys pointing out that the Supreme Court of Canada has four women and a woman chief justice. I have no doubt that the symbolism in her choice for the gift to Sotomayor was intentional.

Photo is Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, the Supreme Court of Canada

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