Meet Lady Hale, the brooch-wearing justice who delivered a blow to Boris Johnson

Image: Brenda Hale, President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom at
Brenda Hale at the Supreme Court building in July 2016. Copyright Kevin Leighton/UK Supreme Court
Copyright Kevin Leighton/UK Supreme Court
By Alexander Smith with NBC News World News
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"The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme," Hale said of the prime minister's suspension of Parliament.


LONDON — Brenda Hale was not well known outside niche British legal and political circles before Tuesday, when she suddenly began trending worldwide on Twitter.The Rt. Hon. the Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE, or Lady Hale, (to use her full title) is the president of the U.K.'s Supreme Court.She shot to social-media stardom after reading out a unanimous ruling by the court's 11 justices against Prime Minister Boris Johnson — all the while with a large and sparkly spider brooch perched on her right shoulder."The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme," Hale, 74, said, ruling that Johnson's government gave unlawful advice to Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament over Brexit.Almost immediately — as her words dropped like a bombshell on British politics — Hale's fledgling fan club grew.Some compared her to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, others remarked on her collection of pin-on jewelry.

There were those who said we should not hero-worship the necessarily sober and unglamorous experts who quietly uphold constitutional democracy. But they were largely ignored.Tuesday's landmark case had already ignited unprecedented interest in Britain's Supreme Court, which does not enjoy the same vaunted status of its counterpart in the U.S.Hale's 1,892-word statement, streamed live online, sent that buzz into overdrive.Onlookers quickly learned of her distinguished, groundbreaking career, one that saw her become the first female justice of the British Supreme Court in 2007, and in 2017 its first female president.

Brenda Hale at the Supreme Court building in July 2016.
Brenda Hale at the Supreme Court building in July 2016.Kevin Leighton/UK Supreme Court

In a profession dominated by men educated in prestigious fee-paying schools, Hale went to what is known as a state school (public school in the U.S.), and was its first student to go to prestigious Cambridge University. According to a profile in The Guardian, she once worked in a pub while studying for her bar exams.But on Tuesday, Twitter seemed more interested in the brooches.It was hard to ignore that while reading the court's judgement, Hale sported a silver breastpin in the shape of a spider. What did it mean? What message was this arachnid adornment supposed to convey to the nation, and indeed the world?These questions were left unanswered, but it soon emerged that it wasn't a one-time event. Hale has a track record of snazzy pins, kindly pointed out by the Legal Cheek website in 2017.Among a dozen different brooches she's been seen wearing, there's been a fox, a frog and a centipede.The internet being the internet, a clothing company has already started selling a "Lady Hale Spider Brooch T-shirt" on eBay, with 15,000 viewings and 1,500 purchases in an hour.Thirty percent of the sales are going to the British homeless charity Shelter.

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