Black Lives [Pins] Matter: Ohio Attorney Jailed For Refusing To Take Off Pin In Court

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 1.00.14 PMThere is an interesting controversy out of Youngstown, Ohio where attorney Andrea Burton have been jailed for five days for contempt in refusing to take off her Black Lives Matter pin. Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich ruled that such pins are a distraction and inappropriate for the courtroom, but Burton refused to yield.


Burton was removed from the courtroom for her contempt, but released on a stay of the five-day sentence pending appeal. She will have quite a challenge. Judges are afforded considerable discretion on enforcing dress codes in their courtrooms. While American flags are allowed (as are religious symbols like crosses), political badges or pins or symbols are routinely excluded. In 1997, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Berner v. Delahanty that “lawyers have no absolute right to wear such feelings on their sleeves” and that a judge’s “policy of prohibiting all political pins is a reasonable means of ensuring the appearance of fairness and impartiality in the courtroom.”

The difficult question is where to draw the line without engaging in content-based censorship. How about a Steelers pin or (to add a combination of religion and sports) a Chicago Bears pin? How about a pro-life symbol or a ribbon for AIDS survivors or breast cancer or fallen police officers? This is why I favor a policy of no pins or symbols on attorneys or staff in an courtroom.

I believe that Milich was correct in his ruling and that Burton was equally wrong in refusing to comply with the order.

Many courts do not expressly prohibit political symbols like the one in Houston:

Proper attire is required in the courtrooms. The following accessories and items of clothing are not permitted at the City of Houston Municipal Courts:

Shorts (all types)
Hats (all types, excluding religious headwear)
Muscle Shirts and Tank Tops
Any item of clothing that displays offensive, vulgar, racist, sexist, gang-related, obscene language and/or graphics.

However, political symbols can be used to appeal to jurors to secure favorable treatment. They can also distract a jury or instill hostility toward a defendant. In my view, attorneys should not wear such items as a general matter.

What do you think?

37 thoughts on “Black Lives [Pins] Matter: Ohio Attorney Jailed For Refusing To Take Off Pin In Court

  1. Black lives matter is based on a LIE! Why are people so stupid to believe it and take up the banner. It is sad that the great melting pot of America has sunk this low. Six hundred thousand lives were given to fight for slaves, mostly white lives. Why must we descend so low? Because my skin is a different color, you should hate me? I don’t hate you. ☹️

  2. Squeeky,

    Congratulations. You win today’s Sinclair Lewis award. (“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”) Your “standards” discriminate based on viewpoint. Just like the University administrators who ban certain conservative speakers from speaking. Congratulations on joining that “elite” crowd. See how easy it is to turn into a “fascist”?

    From a First Amendment, standpoint, putting a black “BLM” on top of a US flag pin is no different than putting any other message on the flag pin, such as “I support the police”, or “I love my country.” You don’t have a problem with including those messages on a flag pin, do you? (BTW, it seems to me that someone can support the police, love their country and flag, and support the idea that Black Lives Matter all at the same time. The fact that there are bad actors in the BLM movement and that there are LEOs who are racist and trigger happy should not result in the condemnation of the entire BLM movement or in the condemnation of all LEOs. )

    Even a flag pin without anything on it sends a message (but maybe not the message intended by the person wearing the pin- see Darren’s comment about why he does not wear pins). If burning a flag is protected speech (and it is), putting a message on a flag pin is protected speech.

    The same goes for any other type of pin someone might wear into a courtroom. Let all pins in (subject to obscenity standards, etc.), or don’t let any in. Don’t discriminate based on the message. You were on much more solid ground with your earlier comment above at 12;25 am.

    Not letting in any pins has advantages pointed out by others commenting here. Client comes first. Always. Judges don’t have to worry about being accused of favoring one party or another because of the pin being worn by one side or the other, or because one side had more flag pins on their lapels than the other side, etc., etc.

  3. Andrea Burton should have done her homework before offering herself as a contemnor and embarrassing her client. Or, maybe she did, and she was trying to draw attention to the cause with her client’s approval?

  4. The courtroom would do well to examine and perhaps follow the model of the military with respect to being a non-political entity. Our service men and women are free to express their political opinions when not acting in the capacity of their profession and as long as their actions are not in violation of the UCMJ. The military has a process to align these young men and women to a uniform code of conduct that ensures when they represent themselves in an official capacity that they leave their personal biases at the gate. This process does not eliminate human nature but it certainly will attempt to weed out those that cannot make this adjustment. Our courtroom doors are that gate as well. I support this judge in his effort to make his courtroom a place for constitutional justice and not social justice.

  5. The courts do not provide justice but rather charges and collects court taxes for the government coffers. If charged with a crime the “Judge” always represents the “state” in all legal matters and is paid by the state to make such representations. All lawyers, even the one you might hire to represent you, represents the courts first, not you. What a money making scam.

  6. @DonD

    You said, “From a First Amendment, standpoint, putting a black “BLM” on top of a US flag pin is no different than putting any other message on the flag pin, such as “I support the police”, or “I love my country.”

    Sure it’s different. It’s an AMERICAN courtroom. It isn’t a BLM courtroom, or a Vote Trump courtroom, or an Eat At Joe’s! courtroom. It’s an AMERICAN courtroom. And if anybody objects to the AMERICAN flag, boy they are sure going to choke on AMERICAN laws, or AMERICAN jurisdiction.

    Plus, IIRC I don’t think Sinclair Lewis said that. But if he did, and he was alive today, he would said that fascism would come to America under a BLM or SJW banner.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  7. It’s his court, his rules. Throw her out.

    Not only is this lawyer promoting a political agenda, she’s promoting terrorists.

    That’s what BLM are, one and the same as the KKK.

  8. Where da White women at? Blazing Saddles.
    The other good line in that movie was by the Mayor when he said that the Freedmen could come into the town and help fight off the outlaws soon to come but then he said: “But Not The Irish!”

  9. @Lisa N
    “Not only is this lawyer promoting a political agenda, she’s promoting terrorists.

    That’s what BLM are, one and the same as the KKK.”

    I find this to be ill informed especially you’re comparison of BLM to the KKK. Have they begun linching white people? To say they are like the fascist KKK or as @Squeeky Fromm does, say they are fascists demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding of what they are about. It is black people who are at risk not white people. Hence, Back Lives Matter “too” is what it is being stated. Black people are the targets of systemic racism not whites. They don’t seek to reverse the situation but to correct it. And it should be remembered that when the influence of the KKK began to subside after civil rights legislation was passed they called for their membership to infiltrate police departments. Now they support a presidential candidate, so what does that say about the Republican opposition to BLM? Loads! There is a very good article on wikipedia that gives its history and criticism as well.

  10. As much as I feel that BLM is just another racist group and they are deemed as cop killers, it is still an opinion of free speech. If that was my lawyer, I would have sued her for incompetence, because she is more worried about her political view then worrying about my case. She was worried about arguing with the judge that will probably be viewing me guilty.

    To be honest, a judge should have NO say in how someone should dress in the first place. Most people can not afford nice clothes. My point I want to stress out, the judge said that religious items are protected and allowed in courtrooms, then how come freedom of speech is thrown out the door. The judge is sworn to uphold the law and our constitution rights then why does he break his promise that he sworn to uphold.

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