Supreme Court Justices Can't Figure Out Email, Completely Mystified By Social Media

from the and-yet-they-make-judgments-on-this-stuff? dept

There are legitimate reasons to avoid email — such as Ladar Levison of Lavabit explaining his concerns about privacy. And, certainly, you can understand why some more elderly people have avoided email, though if my late grandmother kept up her emailing well past her 90th birthday, it seems like almost anyone should be able to pick it up. But, it’s somewhat disturbing to find out that nearly every Supreme Court Justice hasn’t bothered to figure out email yet because they haven’t “gotten to” email.

“The justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people,” she said, adding that while clerks email one another, “The court hasn’t really ‘gotten to’ email.”

Kagan, at age 53 the youngest and most recently appointed justice, said communication among the justices is the same as when she clerked for the late Thurgood Marshall in 1987.

Justice write memos printed out on paper that looks like it came from the 19th century, she said. The memos are then walked around the building by someone called a “chambers aide.”

She also noted that Facebook, Twitter and similar services are “a challenge for us.”

Though, she does note that when they had to rule on California’s law restricting violent video games, a few of the Justices did try some of the games in question, though “It was kind of hilarious.”

Sure, old people playing video games, ha ha. Except, as Will Oremus points out, it’s really not that funny at all when you realize these nine people are deciding a ton of cases that have a huge impact on the future of technology, innovation and communication. For them not to understand the underlying technologies, how they’re used and what they mean is a serious concern:

It does sound quaint and endearing, until you remember that these are the people charged with interpreting the law of the land on issues like online privacy and digital surveillance. No wonder they decided earlier this year that the government spying on people’s emails without a warrant is no big deal. Bet they’d have some strong opinions if the NSA started eavesdropping on people’s chambers aides, though.

It’s easy for some people to say that you don’t have to understand social networking to rule on such cases, but it’s hard to support the more you think about it. These tools are key to open and free communications these days. They are the embodiment of what the First Amendment was supposed to be about — a free marketplace of ideas. Not understanding how they work and how they’re used can really skew how they’re viewed via the legal prism. And that should be worrisome. We’ve already seen in a variety of copyright cases before the Supreme Court that they seem to have a near total blind spot when it comes to how copyright interferes with free expression, in part because they still view it through the antiquated filter of “professional” publishers being the ones doing the speaking, rather than the general public using tools to communicate, converse, debate and express ideas.

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Comments on “Supreme Court Justices Can't Figure Out Email, Completely Mystified By Social Media”

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Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Really hope a Justice retires soon

Then Obama could appoint a judge that actually understood 21st century technology to the court.

Although given how pro-NSA/NSA yes-man/the NSA’s biatch[take your pick] Obama seems to be, appointing a technologically competent justice could be a bad thing, because they might side with the surveillance state Gen. Alexander-types on critical Constitutional issues.

As the Zen Master says, “We’ll see.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Really hope a Justice retires soon

Then Obama could appoint a judge that actually understood 21st century technology to the court.

Yeah! He could appoint an EE or CompSci guy! That would be cool!



Oh, wait. ? He needs a JD, too? ? Someone with an EE/CS degree and a JD is most probably a patent lawyer. ?Most probably.

Bad idea.

Rekrul says:

And, certainly, you can understand why some more elderly people have avoided email, though if my late grandmother kept up her emailing well past her 90th birthday, it seems like almost anyone should be able to pick it up.

Back in the mid to late 80s and early 90s, I knew a guy who was in his 70s who used computers. He started with the Commodore 64 and went on to the Commodore Amiga. He would use them to call local BBSs, and to play various golf games (Jack Nicklaus Golf, Leaderboard Golf, etc) and Flight Simulator II. He wasn’t an expert, but he probably had more computer knowledge than 90% of the users today.

michael (profile) says:

25 year old tech

When I started college in 1990, everyone at the university had an email account, and the upperclassmen already used it regularly.

This is not a “new technology” that has suddenly made communication easier. This is old technology — used by students at even crappy universities — for 25+ years, and ingrained into the minds of everyone since Gen X.

There is no excuse for educated people to proudly tout their cultural and technological ignorance, no matter what their jobs are. But for these people — the youngest of whom is only 12 years older than me — it’s just a disgrace.

Argonel (profile) says:

Re: 25 year old tech

You don’t even have to understand the technology to make sane decisions about it. The name covers it pretty well. E-mail aka electronic mail aka mail that is sent electronically. Sounds like private communications, get a warrant if you want to intercept and read it.

Functionally it is closer to a post card, but it isn’t like getting a warrant is an insurmountable barrier if you have any evidence of wrongdoing.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 25 year old tech

Seriously, there are so many differences between email and snailmail [snip]

Indeed there are, but I think he was trying to point out the glaring similarity that’s right there in the name – MAIL.
I.e. with snailmail you have an expectation of privacy of the contents despite the many people that handle it between sender and recipient. E-mail has (or should have) the same expectation. Hardly rocket science even for the tech-illiterate…

Ted T. (profile) says:

Re: 25 year old tech & no JD required

I started college in 1981 and I had an email address/account so actually it is a 30 plus year old technology.

To the person who said Supreme Court Justices need a JD? Actually, no, they don’t. There are NO constitutional requirements to be a Supreme Court Justice. The president has to nominate you and the senate has to confirm you. That’s it. So there is no reason we couldn’t have a computer scientist Justice who has nothing to do with patents. Except that the president and most senators are JDs and they keep nominating and confirming people just like themselves.

Lonyo (profile) says:


Of course they don’t understand these things.
The people in power want to do whatever they want, the best way to get away with that is to give oversight and legal decisions to people who don’t understand what you are doing, that way you can “explain” to them what you are doing, and they will let you get away with things because they still won’t understand.

It’s not exactly a new concept, and it happens on a daily basis. If you do something complicated, it’s more than likely that you can get away with pretending to explain it to someone above you, and at some point they will just say “OK, that sounds fine, I trust that you know what you are doing”, without really understanding it.

Partly you need to build up some trust initially, but considering it’s the president and various long standing high security organisations, there is implicit trustworthiness. Then you just spew some jargon until they smile, nod, and let you get on with what you were doing.

Joseph Ratliff (profile) says:

If my 76 year-old Grandfather can use email...

… so can they.

There is absolutely NO justifiable reason in the world these Justices cannot (do not) use email. None.

We’re not asking them to figure out the Theory of Everything here… simply to write on the new “paper.”

This makes me wonder how many other members of Congress, Senate and the Administration are in this same boat (not using email).

It’s absolutely inexcusable that the figure heads of our country don’t use 25 year old technology… and play it off as though “we’re old people.”

sorrykb says:

Re: If my 76 year-old Grandfather can use email...

My 100-year-old grandfather can use email (although he needs help now because he can’t see very well).
My 75-year-old father emails me cat videos.
I think most of the Supreme Court justices fall somewhere between the two, age-wise. They should be able to manage. (Although if they realized the scope of the NSA spying, they might not want to.)

ioconnor (profile) says:

Conceit of the young.

This article reminds me of every teenager looking down on the stupid parents who just don’t get why the latest thing billy said is so cool. I suppose like trying to guide a teenager all you can do is point out the fundamentals and hope they piece it together themselves before they do harm.

I myself, being older, think our current consumer oriented buy from China unable to do it yourself population is much like a teenager. Talking about technology… Do you use mutt? Do you use PGP? Do you store all email and back it up with maildir++? Have you started using bitmessage?

The Justices may or may not be technically incompetent. They may or may not be good at anything for that matter. However it is not due to their age.

ioconnor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Conceit of the young.

Uh, the parents are not the stupid ones in my example. And in my example I point out that 99% of the people replying here who think the justices don’t get it are themselves technically so far backwards they don’t realize it. Just as in my examples the idiot teenagers are so lacking they don’t understand the parents are thinking circles around them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Conceit of the young.

It’s a good idea to look down on the stupid parents who just don’t get why the latest thing billy said is so cool, if the stupid parents are the ones making decisions on whether or not fucking around if that latest thing is unconstitutional or not. This isn’t conceit of the young, so much as it is the conceit of the people who are sick and tired of the government fucking around unconstitutionally with our rights, and want the judges to actually do their jobs and provide the oversight they’re supposed to on the government’s insanity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Everyone sees this as a bad thing, something about them being Luddites.
But look at it from this perspective:
1) The Justices are all intelligent, whether we like their opinions or not.
2) CJ Roberts appoints the Justices who are going to be on the FISA court.
3) He presumably knows whats going on with NSA domestic surveillance and spying.
4) What goes on behind the scenes of SCOTUS has traditionally been very private and secretive.
5) The Court wants to keeps its communications secure and private.

Ergo, SCOTUS knows EXACTLY what it is doing by avoiding any electronic or technical means of communications.

Anonymous Coward says:

Kagan makes an off the cuff remark and suddenly the members of the Supreme Court are subject to being ridiculed because they purportedly do not “get” email. Frankly, the exchange of vetted formal memos sounds better to me than the snippets that make up most emails. Perhaps people here would prefer that the justices set up FB accounts, blog about cases and solicit ideas, publish tweets to the world, etc. Seems to me that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Not everything demands the application of new technology.

RD says:

Good for the Goose?

“It’s easy for some people to say that you don’t have to understand social networking to rule on such cases,”

Uh, not around here its not. The usual detractors here are VERY SPECIFIC in their judgement of anyone here who criticizes or questions copyright, the law, or our government MUST BE someone FULLY versed and duly notorized, and also with years of direct experience (unless its Mike! then its “hand wave” away) or else they aren’t qualified to even voice an OPINION on these subjects. How dare the unlicensed riff-raff comment on things they aren’t experts in?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Good for the Goose?

So, you can’t figure out email either, eh? No need to throw a temper tantrum, there are plenty of online resources available. Here’s a simple description, and here’s a version with more in-depth detail.

Don’t worry about social networking for now. Just take things one step at a time, and before you know it the internet won’t be a confusing, scary thing anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

and how many people have been saying this exact same thing for how long? it’s exactly the same for all cases that are resided over by judges that are Internet Idiots. the other most notable cases being those concerning copyright infringement. however, i assume this ignorance is what the entertainment industries have been relying on. the other thing is, if the judges had sufficient knowledge of how things work, perhaps the ridiculous amount of ‘$150,000 per infringement’ would be dropped to a sensible level, like ‘$1’!!

Brian F. Jordan MSgt USMC ret (user link) says:

Have any Justices Read the Constitution or American History

First, Separation of Church has always been known to have been taken out of context from a letter of Thomas Jefferson. However in 1963 the Secular humanist with the help of Congress and the Supremes. I realize Kaga feels those of us who have read the Constitution are to dumb to understand it. So since she and Ruth Ginsberg are together maybe Ruth can explain why the 10 Commandmants were good enough for her family but not our country. Judge Kennedy while erring with the left at least realizes the POTUS is the real danger to America Kagan is to ignorant to understand that the Military tried to stop the Middle Eastern Wars. General Tony Zinni resigned and the military had to teach the Congress the law. This is like trying to explain ROTC to a na?ve woman her Rights are protected by those horrible creatures. The POTUS picked her because he feels the Vets are whiners and potential terrorists. My 10 busted vertebrae, blind in one eye partly and deaf in both ears. cost the government 8 yrs. of my family in poverty and 12 year below the lower middle class. You can see why her presence is such a delight to us.
She hates us and knows us not. She is paid an obscene amount of money to pervert the Constitution. Clarence Thomas is quiet because he listens. The young Harvard Professor might benefit by imitating an honest man. How is it that a Blackman who feels he is a man and not a victim is an Uncle Tom? When another given the Presidency after BEING GIVEN A SENATORIAL SEAT says we are victims. Well he is partially correct. The press knew his father to be Marxist Revolutionary and his mother a Soviet Socialist. That his religious practices as a child were Muslim. Then after he pisses away 31 Billion in bribes to Afghanistans President and Healthcare doesn’t work he blames the rich. The richest Congress persons are DEMOCRATS. To hear his Royal Hine Ass only white Republicans are rich and caused the United States problems. Counting 3 Trillion for Bushes unpaid successful war. Obama has still pissed away ten TRILLION. My state has more on Welfare than Work. Of Course we have a Socialist Governor who was a DSA poster boy and Obamas Mentor. He taught Obama how to be inefficient and get re elected He has cut retired healthcare and stopped civilian healthcare. Now the WASHINGTON POST says perhaps he over reached his powers. The GOP will make a resurgence.
I don’t believe anyone could do worse. He has bent rules and misused Executive Orders in numbers dictators would love. Now in America we are supposed to have checks and balances. What we have are a government that collects Cheques from Industry and Unions and have forgotten how to balance the National Debt. Larry Summers said it doesn’t matter. It mattered when he was in Treasury. 9 Generals resigned when asked if they would fire on Americans. He’ll another McCarthur. All Executive Legislative and Judicial Bldgs will soon have Red Lights for truth in advertising.
That is an unfair comment Hookers work.

JuanHernandez says:

ware is the law in this country

i would like ask all of the person reading this to inquiry or ask your self if this was you how could this happen .i am a disabled person . that thought there was laws in this country .
but after the last 15 years i know that laws are only for the rich
people , if you poor or disabled well in this country there no justice or respect . please read my STORY and think if it was you how would you feel .i will try to make it short .well on august 12 2002 i wit to baptist hospital in miami fl in kendall . i was there case i was haven a alleged reattach to a medicaid and i was very sick now in march of 99 i had a fuel tank blow up on me and did go to the same hospital ,well no august 12 of 2002 after been treated so bad for many hours even though that ever doctor there knew of what happen in 99
thy order a mri on me now i was in a very bad stat that i real did know what was happening but i was put in the mri for 27 minutes till the technical took me out off it and said why do thy keep doing this to me well i did suffer brain damage and the hospital change all the medical records for that day to make it look like i was put in a ct well it was a mri i was in i did file a compliant with the department of health and quality in tallahassee fl and that disabled me but many thing have happen to me in the last 15 years and if any of you have ever file a compliant with the department of health you knot that you have to fill out a form and have notarized and mail it so someone have to sign to received that compliant.i don;t know the exactly how many compliant i did have my mother file but it had to be at list 30 in 15 years .i saw this doctor to removed a 3 cm bodies out of my left temple are it was in the the fat tissue and he had a ct showing exactly ware it was so on the 3 i wit to his office and he scheduled
surgery fore me the next day on dec 4 of 2012 i wint DR Anthony WOLFE that work out children hospital in miami fl .he did even ask me to get consent from my primary doctor so to me i thought well this is no going to be a big deal but i did go to my primary doctor and she did like the fact that he did ask for it well i show up the next mooring for the surgery thinking well this ant going to be a big deal so he saw me right beforE the surgery mark my left temple next to my eyebrow .. wend i came out the surgery this sick ass cut my head open from the back of my right ear tho the top om my head and even put a v mark on the top of my head and cut me all the way the the back of my right ear what a sick doctor and the people in that room. and the 3 cm foreign body he bib even try to removed it over 2 hours in surgery and i am terminal as in going to die from a sickness i have because of baptist hospital how can this sick DR Anthony WOLFE do this that one frankenstein DR . well about two hours after the surgery this DR Anthony WOLFE come in saying o am sorry but i won;t stop till i get that out it look like a little piece of wire wow i have brain damage and i don;t reaction fast to anything so i just look and was in shock , even tho win i woke up i was so mad i all most walk out the hospital with my head chop up like that so on jan 2010 around that time my mother file a compliant with the department of health in tallahassee fl the one of of cypress way in those nice billion dollars building with 6000 employees just in tallahassee well a year passed by and i don;t here a world from this department of health and quality so i start calling and everyone i spoke to tell me i have no idea what your talking about wow . well after calling fors mouths i got very flustered after speaking with the person that was investigation this after all the mouths of calling i wish i can remember his name right i will right again and list everyone name in a list i have it somewhere but this person tell me o but if you want us to investigation you have to pay for your medical records i told him what time you get to work then i got in my car and drove to tallahassee from miami fl to look this man in his face and show the scare i have how do th DR Anthony WOLFE here am at the department of health 4200 cypress way , and win i arrival after 5 10 minutes he come and talk to me and i hade a lot of cd he look at me an say can you come dack at 4;30 wow first thing i told him i drove all night to bring this to you ,well how nice of him it only take a few minutes to copy a cd with the billion of dollars spent on that department and building and this man treat a disabled person like this
well that a wast of you tax money people just to let you know ,thin i look at him and say are you serious i droves all night to put this in your hand and this is the way your going to treat me after that he sad ok just have a seat ill go copy them well this man with no respect made me wait about 2 hours for something i did i 7 minutes the day before what nice people right, after he came back i ask him in this worlds can you please go and look in your computer and tell me about the compliant that my mom file for me and what did this department do about those compliant about 20 minutes later he come back tell you have never file a compliant wow and i have case number at home how this be i even gave my ss number .well i do want to say this i did go to the office in miami and case of DR Anthony WOLFE what he did ever time i go in a building above the 2 floor i get incoherent and a nice lady there often to come to my mother home and do the paper work that thy need but her boss told her she could not do that she did call my mother and tell here this .and that why i hade drive to tallahassee with all most no money and if i brook down i won;t have a way to get back to miami how all this people are don;t you think so at leases thy did fire him .now back to tallahassee after talking what rude person in tallahassee i told him with way to the capital building special after he told me i never file a compliant . funny i look at this billion dollars building and all the brand new cars in the parking wow that must get pay a lot of take a lot brides . how can you my mother file all those compliant in 15 years ant not even one wow who get the mail trash can and everyone that i spoke to that had anything to do with that place was so rude and disrespectful know that am disabled and i have brain damage to some extent here a name i do remember andrew boulder and DANIEL Hernandez the two of them are some kine of lawyer there and the director for the lawyer jennifer chandler . and why i call jennifer chandler wae case andrew boulder was the per that had my case and i spoke to two time and well what a ass so rude of a person , and this is funny he got promoted wow all this people ware so rude and disrespectful in every way it like thy never took a DR to court case wast of tax money
all this that i have written here are truth fact that is hard to believe now today is february 6 and 3 day my mother got a phone call from someone telling here that DR Anthony WOLFE the probable causes panel which is a bunch DOCTOR and not a judge or a person of the court so we have DOCTOR judging DOCTOR how nice well that some told here that the panel did not fine probably cause and this was do to a another DR opinion even thought everything i written here is the truth about this case. and i don;t care what anyone say i am going to make everything that i know public and i have had one attempt one my life already but am died anyway so maybe by written this someone can fine a way to involved a real judgment win a DOCTOR kill someone or manes or case harm to a person , and here the best pare the state dose not make this public record so the thing you read about doctor that give you back ground it most likely written by the DOCTOR themselves and this is the use ware is justice in what i have written here and i did go to the capital building first i wint to pan bonnet office ware i spoke to a assistance and after he herd my story he say to me this is a thing that the governor off is the one that i should be talking to and walking me to the front desk ware the nice lady well it was here birthday and i did wish her a very happy birthday ever tho my brother die on the day july 3 and from there i was there a wile then t lady took me to the hall one was taken notes and ware very nice person even thought that i try to call peggy first name but till this day i have not herd a world from the governor rick scott or any one from his office i guess that don;t care about human life of disabled person and after being there a very lone time the thing that happen to me now i very nicely ask them if i could call from miami ,i was start to fell very sick and still to this day i don;t know exactly what is causes this ever thought it start after DR Anthony WOLFE CHOP MY HEAD UP AND SCRATCH MY SKULL AND THAT PUTtING IT NICELY
and my name is ps there is a lot i have left out do to the fact that one of my disabled is somehow make it very hard for me to write and keep trying to stay on the subject and make my point and spell but i use voice then copy in but it very different thing fore me so sorry if i jump back and forward on what i am try to make public and make people aware of
thank you
god bless you


Richard says:


Spoke with a man the other day by the name of Derek Robinson who said that the Naval Yard shooter Aaron Alexis got a hold of him prior to the shooting he sketched it is gun my ELF electronic low wave frequencies and there’s a problem going on in our country today he is in charge of freedom from covert harassment .theres a Dr. John Hall in San Antonio Texas who wrote a book on satellite terrorism and human guinea pigs think this may have something to do with the shootings going on

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