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Sporting stripes set Rehnquist apart

Posted: Sept. 4, 2005

He was the justice in stripes - four gold stripes on each sleeve of his black robe. In the sedate circles of the Supreme Court, that passes for a pretty wild fashion statement.


Rehnquist, a bit of a flashy dresser himself, added the stripes to his robe after an international conference of supreme court judges in Washington in the 1990s. He felt the American justices looked drab compared with some of their counterparts from other countries who wore elaborate, brightly colored robes and headwear to ceremonies in the main chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rehnquist, a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan operas, went to a community theater production of "Iolanthe" in suburban Washington, where the costume for the judge included the robe with gold stripes. He liked it and showed up in court in 1995 with the added fashion touch.

Because court proceedings are never televised, the change did not make much of an impression on the general public. But the Constitution calls on the chief justice to preside in a presidential impeachment trial, and Rehnquist found himself in that role in 1999 for the Senate trial of President Clinton.

The trial was televised, and Rehnquist's stripes became a widely known part of his image.

- Alan J. Borsuk

From the Sept. 4, 2005 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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