Technology loses at the Supreme Court, again.

Justice Kennedy's memo to his clerks requesting help setting up his email account.
Justice Kennedy’s memo to his clerks requesting help setting up his email account.

By Cara Gallagher, Weekend contributor

Being with family over the holidays resulted in harmonious interactions and your typical familial dust ups. One such kerfuffle, this one of the generational sort, arose when we volunteered to upgrade my father’s iPad 1 to a newer model. We’ve tried to do this before, for his birthday, and he repeatedly denies our offer. Yes, that’s a first edition iPad that he still uses and refuses to give up. Most would react to the upgrade with a swift “YES” and a maybe a backflip. His dismissive reaction is likely attributable to the glimpse he’s seen of a future where he’s forced to alter past practices in order to integrate new technology. That tension doesn’t look appealing. The possibilities of increased efficiency and productivity aren’t worth the challenges that come with new technology like learning new tricks, updating skills, and encountering hurdles along the way. After reading Chief Justice John Roberts’ year-end report, I imagine his mindset is fixed in very much the same way my father’s is when it comes to outfitting the Court with 21st century technology.

Evasive though Roberts was throughout the report about what technology he’s denying, there was no doubt that whatever it is, the answer is a firm “No. Not now.” I assumed he was referring to the constant requests for allowance of cameras or maybe the occasional question of whether smartphones will ever be allowed in the Courtroom. I then remembered that every time I go inside the Courtroom I am only allowed a pen and notepad, so when he uses the word “technology” it might actually be in the broadest sense of the term.

The majority of the Chief’s 16-page report is about technology and the Court. It starts with a history of technology used by the Justices and staff, and proceeds with explanations about why your iPad will not see the inside of the Court any time soon. Listed below are some of the highlights from the report and light commentary on a few points.

  1. The Court had a brief affair with technology way before any of the rest us did, in 1931, when “pneumatics” were introduced to move decisions and other critical information faster to the press. Pneumatics are those suction tubes that I used to watch my parents use at bank drive-throughs to quickly transport the money between the driver and the teller. This technology lasted until 1971 when Chief Justice Burger got rid of them. That Intel debuted its first microprocessor the same year is an irony not lost on me.
  2. Much like my Dad, efforts for the Court to keep up with the latest advances in technology are pointless as “the ceaseless growth of knowledge in a free society produces novel and beneficial innovations that are nonetheless bound for obsolescence from the moment they launch.” There’s no denying — certainly not to anyone who had a Commodore 64, Sega Genesis, or Apple Newton — that specific devices have short shelf lives. However, I say with confidence communication technology essentials, those that are a social force (electronic mail, cameras, smartphones, and the internet) today and in the future, are here to stay.
  3. The Court, according to Roberts, is often “late to the harvest of American ingenuity” of their own volition, despite the increase in tech cases their hearing about matters involving the use of smartphones, complex software patents and intellectual property (Aereo), and global positioning systems (Jones). When the cellphone cases were heard in 2014 (Riley & Wurie), it was revealed that few Justices have and use smartphones themselves. A significant amount of the work done in the Court is done on paper circulated not via email but by the clerks. It’s concerning, to say the least, to hear the Chief speak of the Court’s aversion to technology in this report while they continue to be asked to interpret cases rooted in the social effects of technology, whose impact on us is potentially limitless.
  4. Roberts spends the last half of the report attempting to prove an assertion that the Court isn’t as behind the times as many seem to think. After all, they’ve been employing the CM/ECF system and PACER for decades, which have increased the Justices’ pace of work. We can expect an update to the CM/ECF feature that will allow you to log in with one central sign-on (you can’t already do that?!) and the Court will have its own electronic filing system for 2016. There are caveats of course. “Initially, the official filing of documents will continue to be on paper… Once the system has operated effectively for some time…the Court expects that electronic filing will be the official means…but paper filings will still be required. Parties proceeding pro se will continue to submit documents only on paper.
  5. These may be modest, snail-like steps toward 21st century skills, but the Court can’t be all things to all people, certainly not technophiles. “Unlike commercial enterprises, the courts cannot decide to serve only the most technically-capable or well-equipped segments of the public. Indeed, the courts must remain open for those who do not have access to personal computers and need to file in paper, rather than electronic, form.” Equity is a necessary goal and a laudable overriding concern for the court itself. However, according to this statement the same technology aversion must follow for the general public and the press when interacting with the court.
  6. There was a reminder that, in the court’s opinion, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “Federal judges are stewards of a judicial system that has served the Nation effectively for more than two centuries. Judges and court executives are understandably circumspect in introducing change to a court system that works well until they are satisfied that they are introducing change for the good.
  7. And, finally, a conclusion as antiquated as the Court’s tech policies – a retelling of Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady, the tortoise won the race thanks to the whim, impatience, and napping of the hare. Cass Gilbert created such images at the base of the Court’s lampposts “symbolizing the judiciary’s commitment to constant but deliberate progress in the cause of justice.”

Much like my father and his iPad1, Roberts and the justices will reach a point when they will be forced to confront new systems that simply cannot support old technology and they will have to adjust to the dramatic worldwide changes that have occurred over the last twenty years. Adoption of new information technology and acceptance of widely used devices will come either as a consequence of their deliberate progress or from the influence of tech savvier future justices. Neither seems likely to happen anytime soon.

End note:  A shout out to my Dad, who apparently is not the only one hanging on to the iPad 1 indefinitely.  Old habits do indeed die hard.

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

53 thoughts on “Technology loses at the Supreme Court, again.”

  1. HappyPappies….I am far more lazy than “precious.” But thanks. I was the oldest guy in my old Army office that promptly adapted to computer use…and the reason was simply that it saved enormous amounts of time. Back in the 90’s I bought and brought a personal computer to our office for office work, until, finally, the geeks in IT deemed me fit to have a government version. Bless their barely past teenage hearts. I promptly learned database packages (Oracle, Db3 &4, and SQL Server/Access and a couple others too painful to recall) because it made my day easier…and by writing new databases I made many others’ day simpler as well. In that learning process I also learned what not to do with computers…in my opinion anyway. Similarly, I’m unlikely to romp around our yard with our dogs while buck nekid either (just because the dogs are)…even if I could. Common sense is a good thing to enhance. As Darren said earlier, cash is still king in many places where I travel…your loss, if incurred, is there-by limited.

    1. Aridog – If you consider being economical with your time lazy – well – and your memory is very well honed – like a soldier or something 😉

  2. HappyPappies…probably hasn’t made it to Joplin, or Web City, SW Missouri either (areas I am familiar with personally) … but give it time. Get everyone to put all of their stuff on a dinky smart phone, easily misplaced or lost, and the hackers and thieves will rejoice. Gadgets like smart phones are great, but only if you use them judiciously…e.g., as phones; with text, GPS, and built in browsing features. No sync with your PC or ISP. Stick to what the phone comes with and nothing more. Nothing. I am learning to “like” my “smart phone” for the features mentioned, but will never add to that. My banking is either on-line via my ISP or face to face…they still have tellers who treat you like a customer. Not about to add smart phone access. Ever. That dang RFID chip in my debit card is irritating enough. Not adding anything else that attaches to my PC or ISP. Why would a normal person do that?

    Okay, okay…I realize I am not “normal” in the general sense of the word…I am an old troglodyte. I adapt to change judiciously. I only have a smart phone because my daughter made a bet I wouldn’t ever do it with a friend of hers…she lost. I danced. The smirk on my face cannot be erased. I’ll admit, the text features are cool…however, they are not a necessity. As for using my phone for a credit or debit device…that will only happen if we both hit the Mega-Millions Jackpot simultaneously. Then, if it should occur, I will admit I just lied.

  3. Whoa, all that tech talk is making my head spin, I’ll just stick to my simple little iPad, thank you very much.

  4. bettykath … based on your description of your use of AutoCAD LT, I am sure AutoDesk’s “AutoSketch” will do the job for you. If you occasionally have to deal with regular AutoCAD “dwg” files, Adobe Acrobat Pro will enable you to read the drawings easily….even print them up to 11×17 size.

    However, I mislead you on the cost of Adobe Acrobat Pro…I acquired it via an enterprise package that one of my customers uses (much less expensive usually)…a stand alone private purchase would be more like $499, however it does not force upgrades like AutoCAD does. Same thing for AutoSketch, the enterprise price is less, the stand alone private purchase version is about $265 (at present, it is $240.99 from Amazon)….still a whole lot less than LT or Full Seat…and so far it has not demanded updating like the more expensive versions….and I’ve used it on both XP Pro and Win7 Pro.

  5. Aridog, thanks for the AutoCAD alternatives. I’ll give one of them a try. I got 2000 LT when I took a class and used it a lot for all kinds of things. I can get along without 3D. My brother’s job involves small construction tasks for a member organization, many members who like to give him “tips” and “ideas” about how to do the project. He thinks he would get the job done a lot faster if he posted a drawing nearby. 🙂

    I rarely use a spread sheet anymore and what I have does the job. I no longer remember how to program a spread sheet and have no need to relearn. I suppose if I remembered I’d find uses. There are many joys to being retired. That is one of them.

  6. BettyKath…as a proponent of Lotus you do realize you are a troglodyte, just as I was before the revelation. Excel is simply a flat database that is 100% compatible (with care taken in the headings) with Microsoft Access and SQL server….and with ODBC functions enabled, Oracle, Dbase 3 or 4, et al..even flipping FoxPro (agggghhhhh!) but only if converted, in FoxPro’s case, to delineated text files. The others are seamless imports, discrete or live linked. Becasue MS Accecss has fixed many things not borken, I have Access 2010 installed, as well as 2003 separately, to assure efficiency. The Access 97 version worked the best, and I still prefer it….I may try to install it stand alone sooner than later on Win 7 Pro…not sure it will work, but I’m guessing it will. It is the core of all subsequent Access and SQL Server applications….and has full ODBC capability.

    Next, as for computers with Win 7 Pro as standard, Dell still produces them in quantity, but you must use the “Small Business” Dell site (or the large business site if applicable)….I have bought 8 total (for offices I support in my spare time) in the past year…including two with RAID Array 1 ( real time back up on a dual HDD built in) installed. I presume HP does the same. Dell seems to realize that most businesses, and many government agencies, do not care for Win 8 anything. In time that will change, but as with XP Pro, it will be years not months to happen. If you should need it these days, for new gear, I can give you the direct telephone line to possibly the best technical sales person at Dell. I doubt he’ll mind, business is business.

    Finally, I use two layers of separate drive back ups myself, and my better half, due to her work load, adds RAID Array 1…and for myself I am going to add a non-connected back up as well, thanks to my experience helping a friend with CryptoWall 2 damage to his laptop, garnered while traveling in eastern Europe. Cryptowall 2 attacks all connected drives. Mainly, however, Ms Judi is not a person you want to be around if any of her computers take a dump for more than a day….or less. She can give PMS a good name under those conditions.

    I agree that in most legal matters there should also be a paper back up, and in some cases, engineering drawings as well. At present I have every single thing I touched backed up dating to 1995….including emails. One never knows when some charge of fiduciary irresponsibility, or other technical error, will pop up (some law on the subject(s) have no statute of limitations)…protection is information and I have it, most of the accusers don’t or don’t know how to access it…today SSID access is very limited for my successors.

    Related topic: most folks do not know that ALL government (at least in DOD) financial transactions executed with a government credit card, especaillu if you’re the “authorizing official” (which I was for our office) are in your personal name first and foremost…and you are subsequently reimbursed. I spent several months, post retirement, dealing with US Bank on the subject…until I forced the Army folk to just pay the dang bill. They had screwed up, even broken the law per 48 CFR and GAAP incorporated in law. You need to have sustainable back ups of everything.

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