There is only one tradition associated with becoming chief judge of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: the transfer of the ceremonial red robe.
Carl Stewart becomes the 5th Circuit’s chief today — the first African-American to hold that position — after Judge Edith Jones stepped down from the job three months before her term was scheduled to end. Seniority determines who assumes the chief judge’s role.
Stewart did not immediately return a call for comment. But Jones notes that she already has sent Stewart the bright scarlet robe that has been handed down from chief judge to chief judge, beginning with the late Henry Politz, who served as the 5th Circuit’s chief judge from 1992 until 1999.
Politz used to wear the red robe when swearing in new citizens, which was one of his favorite tasks, says David Schenck, a partner in the Dallas office of Dykema who clerked for Politz in the early 1990s.
“You will never see a man happier than Judge Politz swearing in new citizens,” Schenck says. “It was a happy-mood robe; it was intended in that spirit.”
Jane Politz Brandt, a partner in Dallas’ Thompson & Knight, explains that her father also wore the red robe when swearing in new judges, including during his swearing in of Stewart when President Bill Clinton first appointed Stewart to the 5th Circuit in 1994. Brandt adds that her father and Stewart were Louisiana natives who had chambers in the U.S. district courthouse in Shreveport. Both men became fast friends after Stewart took the bench.
“They were good friends and colleagues. I’m delighted that Judge Stewart is going to have my father’s robe. It couldn’t go to a better person,” Brandt says, her voice breaking. “And what you don’t understand is how much my family loves Judge Stewart. We are so happy for him, and we’re so proud that he’s reached this. My dad would be so proud.”
-- John Council