The Campaign to Preserve Chief Justice John Marshall's Judicial Robe
A partnership of Preservation Virginia and the John Marshall Foundation
Preservation Virginia, owners and operators of the John Marshall House, and the John Marshall Foundation have partnered together to “Save the Robe,” a campaign to conserve the only surviving judicial robe of Chief Justice John Marshall.
John Marshall’s robe, owned by Preservation Virginia, is in a fragile state due to acid hydrolysis from the dye and iron mordant used to achieve its deep shade of black. Without immediate stabilization and documentation, this important artifact could be lost forever. Howard Sutcliffe, principal conservator and director of River Region Costume and Textile Conservation, has agreed to perform the conservation. Sutcliffe’s previous projects include conserving Tiraz fragments from Medieval Egypt, Tzar Nicholas II’s parade uniform and the original Kermit the Frog puppet.
It was John Marshall who first standardized the black robe for Supreme Court justices. When he was sworn in as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States (February 4, 1801), Marshall chose to wear a plain, black robe. Since then, Supreme Court justices and most other state and federal judges throughout the United States have worn black robes, signaling impartiality and equal justice for all.
John Marshall’s robe is the single-most significant artifact from his 34-year tenure as Chief Justice and his defining legacy of establishing the federal judiciary as a constitutional equal of the President and Congress.
Once restored, the robe will remain in the permanent collection of Preservation Virginia’s John Marshall House, the home John Marshall built in Richmond’s historic Court End neighborhood in 1790 and where he lived for forty-five years until his death. The House holds the largest collection of original Marshall Family pieces.
Preservation Virginia’s mission is to make Virginia’s communities and historic places of memory stronger, more vital and economically sustainable through preservation, education and advocacy. The John Marshall Foundation exists to educate the public about the rule of law under the Constitution through the life, character, and services of America’s great Chief Justice.