Judges in US courtrooms famously use a gavel at appropriately dramatic points in a trial. If a judge fails to use a gavel, or uses it at the wrong moment, is this legally significant? Or is the gavel purely ceremonial?
It is purely ceremonial. The tendency in modern jurisprudence is towards the practical and away from legalisms and technicalities. Even if a judge used a gavel in some way inappropriately, it would be unlikely to have any legal significance for anyone but the judge.
An argument based on gavel misuse would fall into the "fringe-on-the-flag" category of legal arguments (yes, there are people who think that the court's powers are determined entirely by the fringe on the courhouse flag). The gavel is a traditional trapping of a common law courtroom, but has no legal significance.
2Can you bolster this answer with some references that would back up your claims in your answer?– ChadMay 27, 2015 at 16:17
1@Chad: That falls into the realm of "proving a negative."– feetwet ♦May 27, 2015 at 16:36
2en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavel May 27, 2015 at 17:33
1@Chad: I'll try to dig some references up (I've seen this before, in sovereign citizen "arguments". In particular, I recall the "fringe on the flag" argument being that the fringe belongs on/denotes an admiralty court, which would not be authorized to hear the case in question. I believe these "sovereign citizen" arguments are what chapka was referring to.– sharurMay 23, 2016 at 18:28
2The gavel is not ‘a traditional trapping of a common law courtroom’ – it is an American idiosyncrasy. It is not, and never was, used in English courts.– sjyJun 7, 2018 at 9:13