Sunday, July 10, 2016

Supreme Court Snuff Etiquette

Use of snuff was common in the U.S. capital for all branches of government. Dating from days when it was customary for gentlemen to take snuff, the two delicately, colored snuff-boxes at the entrance to the Senate chamber in Washington were kept filled while the Senate is in session. Originally placed to prevent head colds, the snuff was still used liberally by Senators through to the latter 20th Century. 

Reason Given for the High Bench Behind Which Supreme Court Judges Have Their Seats

The Federal Supreme court is celebrating its centenary of “the high bench." Originally the Justices sat behind a long bench on the floor of the courtroom, on a level with the lawyers who tried their cases before them. This straight desk had set into it a snuff box opposite each Justice’s seat. 

Henry Clay was arguing a case before the court. During a pause in his argument, one of the Justices reached forward, took a pinch of snuff and settled back to weigh the more carefully the reasoning presented. In his next pause, Mr. Clay reached over and with a “Thank you" took a pinch himself. The court was indignant. 

That afternoon they met to decide what could be done to preclude the possibility of a second breach of the“etiquette of the court” and decided to have a bench made of such height that no mere practitioner could reach their pet snuff. Since then they have sat behind the high bench that is in use today. —New York, 1921

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia