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Is It Wrong to Ban Cowboy Boots in Court?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 13, 2016 3:56 PM

The trial of Ammon and Ryan Bundy begins today, but the duo won't be wearing their signature cowboy attire. The Bundy brothers, part of the family of Nevada ranchers turned anti-government activists known for their armed confrontations with the federal government, are being charged for their role in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon last January.

But before the trial could get started, there was the important issue of wardrobe. The Bundy brothers asked that they be allowed to wear cowboy boots to court, a request the U.S. Marshal's Service and prosecutors opposed, and which the court eventually denied.

Dressing the Part

We've heard of some unusual courtroom outfits in the past: the defendants who show up in their sweatpants, for example; a defendant who was brought in to court without any pants; an attorney who argued, poorly, against his disbarment while dressed as Thomas Jefferson. In comparison, the Bundy brothers' cowboy gear looks almost regal.

But cowboy attire, including boots and a massive belt buckle, aren't part of the Marshal's Service's approved courtroom wear. The Marshal's Service bans ties, belts, because they could become a security risk or be used as weapons, according to the Oregonian.

The Bundy's lawyers argued that they had the right to dress themselves as they pleased. Ammon's lawyer argued in a written motion that "These men are cowboys, and given that the jury will be assessing their authenticity and credibility, they should be able to represent themselves to the jury in that manner." At a hearing last week, Tiffany Harris, an attorney for one of the non-Bundy occupiers, agreed. "The public saw them appearing emblematic of a certain rural culture," Harris argued, the Oregonian reports.

Legitimate Request or Waste of Time?

The judge, however, wasn't convinced. U.S. District Judge Anna Brown denied the cowboy boot request, saying that "there has not been any showing these men are any different from any other defendant." Ammon Bundy, in a gray suit and loafers, was "dressed better than most people in the building, period." Eager to move ahead, she told the Bundys' lawyers, simply, "You're wasting time."

The Bundy's have made several unusual requests before their trial began today. Ryan Bundy, parroting Sovereign Citizen nonsense, initially demanded $100 million to stand trial. Ammon Bundy wanted a computer, Facebook access, and video editing software while in prison. (Ryan was upset that jailers had denied him his Second Amendment rights, as well.)

But not everyone views the boots request as silly, or the government's opposition to it as justified. Joe Patrice, at Above the Law, argues that "the government's position here boils down to, 'for no specific safety reason, we should be able to dictate the defendants' litigation strategy.'"

What do you think? Should defendants, even the Bundys, be allowed to wear boots in court?

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