State Watch

Maryland District Court chief judge bans ‘thin blue line’ masks over bias concerns

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A Maryland district court judge on Wednesday banned all court employees including clerks, bailiffs and judges from donning face masks that depict the “thin blue line.”

Chief Judge John P. Morrissey said in an email announcing the ban that the masks and other apparel with the symbol created “an issue of perceived bias,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

Morrissey’s order will apply to all staff at 34 district court sites statewide, but will not affect people who are courthouse visitors.

“The Judiciary must maintain itself as an unbiased and independent branch of Maryland state government,” Morrissey said in the email obtained by the Sun. “Employees of the District Court wearing any clothing item or apparel which promotes or displays a logo, sticker, pin, patch, slogan, or sign which may be perceived as showing bias or favoritism to a particular group of people could undermine the District Court’s mission of fair, efficient, and effective justice for all and call into question the Judiciary’s obligation to remain impartial and unbiased.”

According to a judiciary spokesperson, Maryland’s circuit courts were not included in Morrissey’s order, the Sun noted.

The “thin blue line” symbol is typically worn to show support or reverence for law enforcement. It has also become politicized, as counterprotesters at demonstrations and rallies for racial justice have sported the symbol on flags and T-shirts.

Morrissey’s order came as a response to a local public defender who urged judges in a Tuesday letter to ban the symbols in courthouses, the Sun reported.

“[The symbol] has been adopted by the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ movement, which launched in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and has been associated at times with white supremacist groups. The wearing of this mask politicizes a space that is, at its core, supposed to be the very essence of fairness and impartiality,” Maryland Public Defender Paul DeWolfe wrote in his letter. “To allow these masks to be worn by courtroom staff during the hearings and trials of our clients, a large swath of them Black, denies to them the appearance that their hearing is being conducted fairly and without bias.”

Last year, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) opposed a ban of a “thin blue line” flag being displayed in a local police station, noting that he was “offended and disgusted” by the move, according to the Sun.

“We are proud to hang these Thin Blue Line flags in Government House to honor our brave law enforcement officers. A local elected official prohibiting police from displaying a flag given to them by a grateful child is disgraceful,” he wrote at the time.

Tags coronavirus masks Maryland Thin blue line

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