State Supreme Court issues rule for veils in courtroom
Lansing – The Michigan Supreme Court today adopted a court rule that allows judges to prohibit witnesses from wearing veils in court.
The court refused to allow an exception even for headpieces reflecting sincerely held religious beliefs.
The issue stems from a Hamtramck case in which a Muslim woman was prohibited from wearing a niqab, a face covering that covers all but the eyes.
The woman later sued the district judge in federal court, claiming her civil rights had been violated. The federal court declined to exercise jurisdiction and refused the case. The case is pending before the U.S. court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruling is meant to clarify the issue.
Here is a proposed amendment to the Michigan Rules of Evidence:
The court shall exercise reasonable control over the appearance of parties and witnesses so as to (1) ensure that the demeanor of such persons may be observed and assessed by the fact-finder, and (2) to ensure the accurate identification of such persons.
The fact-finder = the jury.
If it were just a matter of religious practice I’d say let them wear their veils. The proposed Rule seems to assume that the jury can better assess the testimony of witnesses when it can see their facial expressions and I think that’s right.
But the determining factor is that defendants have a right to confront the witnesses against them. If I saw a gang shooting I could not show up in court wearing a mask or a niqab nor testify from behind a screen.