Recently, the glaring absence of a gavel made headlines. While there was never a clear reason given as to why it wasn’t being used, some courtrooms are no longer making use of a bang the gavel, while many others are still doing so. How and why did the gavel come into use? Finding that out might just clear up the answer as to why it might not be used any longer.
Traditionally, the gavel is used as a sign of authority and to declare that a person can act in an authoritative manner. It is most often used to call something into order, such as a courtroom session, or to announce a decision in a case. The first gavel was used by Vice President John Adams during a senate session in 1789. That started a trend that has continued today. A gavel is used to call a court or meeting into session. The sound of the gavel striking the sound block calls attendees to attention so that everyone quiets down and prepares to start the session.
In addition, the gavel has customarily been used to restore order when noise and movements become distracting and chaotic. For example, a judge will strike his gavel against the sound block if a courtroom session becomes heated or the witness (or audience) begins shouting or getting upset or angry. The sound helps to get everyone’s attention so that things can progress along in an orderly manner.
Finally, in many instances, the gavel is used to declare the ending of a meeting or session. Most often gavels are used by judges to finish sessions and announce that rulings are finished for the day or for good. Auctioneers also use a gavel to announce a sale has been made so that people are aware that the sale is over and that no more bids are being accepted.
Using a gavel is a predominantly American practice, though it does appear in history in England and other parts of Europe from time to time. There are clear and strict rules for using a gavel. Only someone in authority is allowed to rule a meeting with a gavel. In addition, the gavel is not to be used to drown out the voices of attendees who aren’t agreed with and the gavel should not be played with or used unless it’s in its intended capacity. To sum it up, the gavel is only to be used to bring a meeting to order, to maintain order during the meeting and to call the meeting to an end.
Many judges and other users of a gavel have their own personal one, while other entities have a shared one. Regardless of the so-called missing gavel, it appears that, at least for now, it’s use will continue as it has for hundreds of years.