Friday, January 2, 2015

Supreme Court of the US Chief Justice Notes Technology in Year-End Report

In his tenth report, Chief Justice John Roberts focused on information technology in the US Courts (PDF).


Chief Justice Roberts begins his year-end report both informatively and humorously (in my opinion) with a history lesson from the construction of the US Supreme Court courthouse in 1935 and their embrace of recent technology:
“On November 10, 1893, the Washington Post identified an emerging technology that was reshaping American society: Pneumatics! The miracle of compressed air had led to the creation of new contraptions, including pneumatic tube systems that relied on air compressors to transport cylindrical containers hundreds of feet within buildings…Noting this and other applications of pneumatics, the Washington Post lightheartedly proclaimed, “The present era is likely to be known to history as the pneumatic age.” 
“News of this dawning era was slow to reach the Supreme Court. It was not until 1931 that the Marshal of the Court proposed installing a pneumatic tube system in the Courtroom for the benefit of the press. Architect Cass Gilbert incorporated that technology into the design of the Court’s current building, concealing the gray metal tubes behind mahogany desks and beneath the marble floor.”
So who says that the courts don’t have a history of embracing technology?  However Chief Justice Roberts admonishes:
“Courts are simply different in important respects when it comes to adopting technology, including information technology. While courts routinely consider evidence and issue decisions concerning the latest technological advances, they have proceeded cautiously when it comes to adopting new technologies in certain aspects of their own operations.”
He next describes the many technological advances that the US Federal Courts have adopted including:

  • Computer-assisted legal research
  • Courtroom modernization to assist with computer driven display
  • E-filing and electronic access to court records provided by the CM/ECF systems
  • Electronic access to court documents (PACER)

Future advances for the Next Generation CM/ECF including “central sign-on” that “will allow court users and attorneys to file and retrieve information in any federal court using the same login and password” are noted.  And it was reported that:
“The Supreme Court is currently developing its own electronic filing system, which may be operational as soon as 2016. Once the system is implemented, all filings at the Court—petitions and responses to petitions, merits briefs, and all other types of motions and applications—will be available to the legal community and the public without cost on the Court’s website. Initially, the official filing of documents will continue to be on paper for all parties in all cases, with the electronic submission an additional requirement for parties represented by attorneys. Once the system has operated effectively for some time and the Supreme Court Bar has become well acquainted with it, the Court expects that electronic filing will be the official means for all parties represented by counsel, but paper filings will still be required. Parties proceeding pro se will continue to submit documents only on paper, and Court personnel will scan and upload those documents to the system for public access. The Court will provide more information about the details of the system, including the process for attorneys to register as authorized filers, in the coming months.”
We congratulate our friends at the US Courts for recognition by the Chief Justice and are looking forward to learning about further advancements in the future.

*Accompanying photo is the Los Angeles City Hall pneumatic tube document delivery system from the Los Angeles Public Library photo archive:

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