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. BettyKath said ….

    … used AutoCAD 2000 a lot, great program, no longer works on Windows 7 and latest version of AutoCAD is from another universe.

    AutoCAD is something I am quite familiar with from my Army days. It could work fine on XP Pro, but not so much if you had to integrate your work with that of others who have updated on schedule….and apparently does not work on Win 7 Pro. It is the most common architectural software, along with Microstation (by Bently last time I had to use it). Essentially AutoCAD 2000 was dead on arrival by 2004. AutoDesk, the purveyor of AutoCAD, has a “marketing” technique that provides updates every two years, at a cost of $2000 for a full seat, $400 for the LT version, and if you skip an update, by the next one you cannot utilize it…e.g., you have to buy a new seat license for around $1000 for the LT verision to the full seat at $4000. In short, they sell you a complete package every 4 years or so…that is their plan. Now that the Army is no longer paying the tab, I have found other solutions.

    If you just use it for personal use or production for your own use, then I can understand your frustration. I’ve found that AutoDesk AutoSketch (around $100 or so …but no 3-D etc.) does all I need these days, and it works on Windows 7 Pro, as well as XP Pro. To read old AutoCAD “dwg” files (it lacks the layers of the original drawings) I use Adobe Acrobat Pro (around $200 and works on either XP or Win7 Pro) and find I can do fine…short of actual mark ups…so I just annotate via Acrobat notation functions and let others do the markups, when consulting my old office….I can do that now that I am retired. I fully believe it is my sacred duty to let my successors struggle with AutoCAD or Microstation, just as I did…it is only fair, right 🙂

  2. Here is one silent film that fortunately survived. It was remade back in the 1970’s by the great grandson of the original producer D.W. Lucas.

  3. Each time I get a new computer I seem to lose a program that I used a lot. The system changed and the program could no longer be installed on that system. Programmed in Lotus, never bothered to learn to do that in Excel or the Open Office spread sheet; MYOB worked great for financial stuff; wish I had the layout program I loved, lack of that program has me so traumatized I don’t remember its name; used AutoCAD 2000 a lot, great program, no longer works on Windows7 and latest version of AutoCAD is from another universe. Last computer wasn’t a coffee drinker and went on strike when I gave it some. Had a hard time finding a new computer that had Windows 7 instead of Windows 8. My brother gave me a smartphone to replace my flip phone. Took so long to figure out how to answer the damn thing that I missed calls and then had to start a new search on how to return the call, in the meantime it went on-line for who knows what or why. Went back to my flip phone. I don’t have enough life left to spend hours trying to learn stuff that I really don’t need. And I spent twenty years designing operating system software.

    On topic: the court needs to continue to keep paper backup. (I have digital backup on media that is no longer supported. Note to self, get rid of Bernoulli disks, they’re trash) Systems crash, hard drives crash, backups can get scrogged (one file got backed up twice, one backup was by the name of a different file that would have been lost if I didn’t keep three levels of backups, the good file was in the first of the three backups, if I had only two backups, the file would have been lost; why I do that is based on real-life experience), and not everyone uses technology. However, since these folks on the court have to make decisions where technology is involved, they need to know about it.

  4. Aridog

    That is why believe cash is still king.

    If one just carries cash, the maximum loss they have is the amount of money they carry. Having the smart phone as the source the maximum amount is the limit of the bank account, or at least the daily withdrawal limit. Plus, what is the real convenience? slapping a smart phone across a reader or swiping a card?

  5. I am seeing more and more little signs on card swipe machines in stores that say you can also just wave your smart phone at it to make the payment.

    Now why on earth would anyone put any of their financial information on a smart phone?

    Anyone who can answer this question, with a good reason other than just the sheer technology of it, please do so. I’ll listen.

    1. @Aridog about the Smartphone wave – I haven’t seen that yet out here in SE Missouri – How asinine. lol just rip me off, I like it. 😉

  6. Boxerbuddy –
    Many years ago, when I was in college, the local Meanswear Store had a fascinating sales system. A clerk would write up a sales ticket and put it (along with the $$) into the basket of an aerial tramway system that snaked its way around the store. At the back of the store, the tramway went through a hole in the wall to a clerk, who rang up the sale and made change, which came back via the tramway as well. So it took about 5 – 10 minutes to buy anything. But it was sure neat !

  7. The grocery company I retired from still uses pneumatic tubs to transfer money from the front end to the bookkeepers office. An oldie but goodie!

  8. In a nod to the modern technology improvements, I can definitely see the gratification (from the face time features) one can get when they have a loved one far away. My new phone has it, however, I hope and pray I never let it turn on inadvertently…I can be rather careless about my appearance when using it. Not nekid or anything, but shaggy scraggly for sure. No one needs that image up in their face on a screen. 🙁

  9. Another great thing about my new iPad, I get to FaceTime with my daughter and good friends away from home. If I had the newer version of iPad when my daughter was in Afghanistan we could’ve FaceTimed. We did on occasion, but on my other kids’ newer iPads, when at family gatherings. It was great to see my daughter’s face all the way over there and how she had her “can” arraigned. Technology doesn’t help human nature but it does allow us to stay a bit more connected with those we love, over long distances.

  10. Speaking of leaner; I heard on the ‘old’ AM radio this morning (haven’t verified it), that California has 900 new laws on the books for 2015. I have no idea how many laws went away as a result but it makes me wonder, how in the world have we survived 164+ years without these 900 laws?

    I truly believe as technology progresses, we as a culture regress; all thanks to our unyielding human nature. Technology doesn’t improve human nature; it simply improves the devices we use to express it.

  11. Just an observation but it seems those that are proud of their ability to manage their lives with “limited” technology are the very same traditionalists that promote a leaner government. Self-reliance can certainly manifest itself in many ways and in my opinion, not every gadget improves our culture.

    1. Olly – about the limited government and limited gadget observation – that is a great observation 😉

  12. All that said, for those who want it, the features (and bugs) of the updated devices (mine is one of those) are a blessing I’ll admit. My issue, as mentioned here earlier, is that software folk tend repeatedly to fix what’s not broken (IMO it is a marketing thing) and that can be an impediment to those who use their smart phones for more than I do mine when it ceases the functionality they desire. We’re not all “fossils” …just me 🙂

  13. HappyPappies said …

    I am one of these fossils everyone is laughing about…

    Falcon one zero one. Just recently acquired a new iPhone (my daughter wore me out about my old flip phone)…and am learning to use it. First rule applied for my use is to never synchronize it for email, or for any connection to my personal computer. No apps will be downloaded either. I find the improved ease of text messaging (when appropriate) very nice, and the phone part works (voilà’), and I will use only those applications that “communicate” via telephonic means or enable browsing such as for maps, directions, and GPS.

    I am retired and do not need a computer in my pocket…I have one on my desk and a bare bones laptop for travels. So, yes, indeed, I am a certified troglodyte or “fossil.” And quite happy about it. I do not need a phone that reaches me with urgent emails whilst squatting on the commode or showing either…contrary to what my military superiors insisted once upon a time…insisting I let them issue me a Blackberry. I never missed an emergency call, nor failed to issue appropriate responses with my other computing devices, including deploying our team to NOLA for Katrina, two days in advance of landfall. Subsequently, after I retired they stopped issuing anything but Blackberries. Now some fools can reach you, via email, at oh dark thirty and actually expect you to listen up. If it’s that urgent, call me…I will answer, even from a groggy state otherwise known as sleeping. I answer no calls or texts or whatever while driving….they all record very nicely on my new phone and I can easily respond, if necessary, when parked or otherwise convenient without distraction…like not killing someone with my truck at 70 mph or whatever.

    After reading HappyPappies’, Darren’s, and Chuck Stanley’s comments I acknowledge I am way behind technologically. I am an old cretin with basic knowledge of Oracle and SQL Serverm de rigueur MS Office and sundry applications like AutoCAD and Adobe Acrobat…and that is enough for me. None of it do I need or want on this wee thingee in my pocket.

    So, HappyPappies…you are hardly alone in fossildom. 🙂 You already know far more than I do now. Somehow I find that comforting.

    1. Aridog – quit being so darn modest and thank you for understanding me

      Out there trying to remember the future and all 😉

  14. I’m with Cara’s father, maybe more so. Every new gizmo or upgrade requires a certain number of brain neurons dedicated to its management and upkeep. But my brain is already fully occupied, with more things than I can ever accomplish in this lifetime. So I stick with my geezerphone that just makes calls, and my XP computer to be online. And I get to watch all the people walking around staring at their little electronic masters, oblivious to what is going on around them.

    And anybody who thinks the Cloud can’t be hacked or sabotaged, is very naive indeed. Your data and programs are owned and stored by Apple and Microsoft – and only rented out to you. What can go wrong?

    So I hope the Supremes hang onto paper for a long time.

  15. The answer is blowing in the wind. But no matter what happens I do not want to see Ginsberg and Scalia on camera. I like listening to oral arguments and hearing all the turdy turd and a turd accents because it lets me know how narrow the thought process is up there with six of nine speaking like that and all of them being from Harvard or Yale or both. We need diversity. I am an Originalist. I believe that the Framers are rolling over in their graves when they hear those voices and learn that we have an Italian, three Jewish folks, the rest Cat O lics and not one Protestant and of course not one Church of England person.

  16. About fifteen years ago I was involved in a conversation about how our time would be viewed several hundred years in the future.

    I had a discussion about this in regards to digital photography. I love the convenience of digital photographs and the ease in being able to share them. However, since digital photos became the thing, even I with some camera experience hardly ever have actual prints made of my photos. Even then they are laser prints or ink jet and those just do not last. They degrade and fade.

    Old photos from the past. Those from the Civil War era, the Roaring 20’s, the 1950’s and other eras all show us interesting and important things about our culture and the world. HIstory!!! It is a marvel to look at those long gone faces from the past whether they be your Great Grandparents who immigrated from Wales and moved to Rock Springs Wo in the 1880’s (mine) or random strangers in speakeasies or children in the Depression with their families fleeing the Dust Bowl……they all have faces and stories that you might imagine. about them. They are REAL people and we can still view them.

    Some day we will regret not having photographs….tangible….real….lasting photos. Our memories that are stored in fragile, fading digital format will be erased and long gone. The technology to read those digital files will be long gone as well. Photos of your children, grandchildren, you….gone.

    Time will view us as a mystery with very little data available and wonder why we were so careless.

    We might as well not have existed at all. Dust in the wind (dude).

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