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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?

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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.

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    Can you bolster this answer with some references that would back up your claims in your answer?
    – Chad
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 16:17
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    @Chad: That falls into the realm of "proving a negative."
    – feetwet
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 16:36
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavel Commented May 27, 2015 at 17:33
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    @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.
    – sharur
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 18:28
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    The 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.
    – sjy
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 9:13

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