Call it historic, call it odd, call it a bit silly. But the ascension of a new chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Minnesota will be marked by a little ceremony titled the “Passing of the Bow Tie” at a meeting of the Minnesota chapter of the Federal Bar Association on Monday at Schulze Hall on the Minneapolis campus of the University of St. Thomas.
After seven years as chief judge, Michael Davis will step down July 1 to be replaced by John Tunheim. Davis, who is staying on as a senior judge, will be honored by the chapter at the event and will take the bow tie that he received in 2008 and pin it on Tunheim.
It is a “western bow tie of the sort made famous by Colonel Sanders” of fried chicken fame, according to a three-page history of the tie ritual written by Tom Boyd, president of the Minnesota branch of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Historical Society.
Retired Chief Judge James Rosenbaum calls the clip-on tie a cheap “dime store tie.” (For those of you too young to remember, a dime store was a store where you could actually buy something for a dime.)
The tie was first worn by Gunnar Nordbye, who became the district’s first chief judge in 1948. Legend has it, Rosenbaum said, that Nordbye’s wife, Eleanor, attached the rhinestones to it. Most of the rhinestones are affixed to the tie’s two hanging strings, creating the letters C and J for Chief Judge. There is a rhinestone missing at the bottom of the left string, where one can detect what looks like a food stain. Fried chicken, perhaps?
The tie was passed from one chief judge to the next, either privately or at judges’ meetings, but the ceremony got enhanced in 2008 when Rosenbaum pinned the tie on Davis at a bar association gathering.
Only rarely does anyone see the tie. “I would wear it for special occasions around the courthouse just for fun,” said former Chief Judge Donald Alsop, now an inactive senior judge.
Rosenbaum recalls stuffing it in a drawer and quips his most important job as chief judge “was not to lose the damn thing.”
Davis evidently did not want to take any chances. He handed it over to Richard Sletten, the clerk of district court, who bought a wooden box for it with a glass cover and little nameplates noting each chief judge. He keeps the box under lock and key. “I’m the guardian of the Bow Tie, so to speak,” said Sletten, who appears bemused by it all.