MSC got it right on witness appearance rule

A Lansing State Journal editorial lauds the Michigan Supreme Court for properly balancing “a person’s religious beliefs with the cause of justice by giving judges the authority to require witnesses and parties to show themselves in court.”

The MSC amended Rule 611 of the Michigan Rules of Evidence so that judges can establish reasonable standards regarding the appearance of parties and witnesses to evaluate their demeanor when testifying, and to ensure accurate identification.

From the LSJ‘s editorial page:

The issue came up in a civil matter in which a woman of the Muslim faith arrived in court wearing a veil that covered all of her face except for her eyes. The judge asked her to remove her veil so that he could see her face and better assess whether her statements were truthful as she gave them.

She has filed a lawsuit in federal courts claiming discrimination.

But there is nothing discriminatory in secular courts having a consistent standard for witness behavior and appearance. What if a witness or plaintiff appeared in a Halloween mask, claiming this was part of his religious heritage? …

A veil may be a vital component to some women in the Muslim faith, but it also interferes with the court’s work. The Michigan Supreme Court had to strike a balance on those issues – and it found the right one.


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