I was in court once and some guy showed up in street clothes. It was OK, though, because the judge needed him on a moment's notice and the lawyer did not have a suit in his office that day. Normally, you have to dress up for court. Hey, it's court!
The case is Bank v. Katz (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2009). Todd Bank is an attorney who appeared in Civil Court in Queens, N.Y. While representing himself in a legal dispute, he asked the judge to recognize his First Amendment right to wear an Operation Desert Storm baseball hat. He was also wearing a button-down shirt, blue jeans, socks and shoes. Of course, the state court judge said no, hence this lawsuit.
First Amendment cases involving speech on public property are won or lost depending on how the property is categorized. In a public forum (such as a park or the sidewalk), speech rights are at their zenith. Courtrooms are not public forums, Judge Garaufis reminds us. Citing Huminski v. Corsones, 396 F.3d 53 (2d Cir. 2005), he writes that "[t]he function of a courtroom is 'to provide a locus in which civil and criminal disputes can be adjudicated. Within this staid environment, the presiding judge is charged with the responsibility of maintaining proper order and decorum.'" A federal court in Pennsylvania ruled in 2004 that "it is generally accepted etiquette to remove an every-day hat when entering the courtroom."
The state judge who told Bank to remove his hat and dress appropriately acted reasonably and without regard to Bank's viewpoints. Noting that viewpoint discrimination is illegal even in non-public forums, Judge Garaufis starts to have fun with the case. He writes, "Plaintiff does not allege, for example, that a Queens judge prohibited only Yankees hats from her courtroom, or that hats with pro-war messages were permitted while anti-war hats were not." As it is implausible that Bank has a legitimate First Amendment claim, his case is dismissed.