Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The courtroom is not a schoolyard

Would you walk into court with a baseball hat and casual clothing? Most attorneys would not. If you did, would you claim a First Amendment right to do this? One attorney did. The Second Circuit says there is no such right.

The case is Bank v. Katz, a summary order decided on June 17. The Second Circuit (Hall, Miner and Sack) says, "Bank alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments by orally directing him not to wear a baseball hat when appearing in court and by admonishing him for wearing inappropriately casual attire."

The First Amendment can be complicated, but the Second Circuit is not going to accept Banks' argument. (Bank is a lawyer, by the way). The government, including trial courts, may restrict speech if those restrictions are consistent with the purpose of the forum, in this instance, the courtroom. The Court of Appeals says, "A courthouse serves 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. The restriction as alleged is therefore reasonable."

Banks also invokes his liberty interest in his personal appearance. Even assuming that such a right exists, Banks "identifies no legal basis for concluding that a lawyer's interest in dressing as he pleases when appearing in court rises to the level of a fundamental constitutional right, nor are we able to discern one. Accordingly, we apply rational-basis review to Bank's Fourteenth Amendment claim. We conclude that the defendants' instructions that Bank remove his baseball hat when appearing in court were rationally related to the legitimate governmental purpose of maintaining order and decorum in the courtroom." Hey, the courtroom is not a schoolyard.

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