The High Court's Lack of Tech Knowlege is Troubling

By  |  Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Remember that sexting story I shared with you Monday? Well, our nation’s highest court heard those arguments Tuesday. What we learned from their performance on the bench is that a significant number of them have a very rudimentary understanding–if any at all–of technology.

If this is the case, we should be quite concerned that this court just doesn’t have the knowleddge to accurately rule on what is likely to become an ever-increasingly tech-heavy caseload as high-tech works even further into the fabric of our lives.

Here’s just some of the surprisingly basic questions asked by justices, according to DC Dicta:

Chief Justice John Roberts, who has written out his opinions with pen and paper: “What is the difference between e-mail and a pager?”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, failing to understand the basic concept of a text message: “[If messages are sent simultaneously], does it say: ‘Your call is important to us, and we will get back to you?'”

Justice Antonin Scalia, asking about those sexts: “Could Quon print these spicy little conversations and send them to his buddies?”

If our highest court cannot grasp the most basic concepts of technology, I highly question how they could provide fair judgments on any matter involving tech. This makes me very nervous.

We cannot completely blame the Court for its failings. Most of the justices are over the age of 70. However, at the same time, you need to stay current when you’re in a position to make decisions that affect the entire country.

President Obama is going to have to select a new justice very soon. Let’s hope the one he picks at least knows what e-mail is.



8 Comments For This Post

  1. James Says:

    I’d want to see the context for the Roberts quote. Without it we could be misinterpreting what he was asking based on the literal meaning of the words out of context. What he could have been asking is what are the legal differences between email and pager messages — do they have the same privacy rules or expectations. Not saying that’s what happened, but with that single quote at least we could be missing the point. As for the rest, I guess we should be happy they are asking questions they need answers to. Sometimes it seems public officials are afraid of doing that.

  2. Bouke Timbermont Says:

    This is extremeley troubling. I mean: THIS IS ABOUT TEXTING!!! Something everyone has been doing for the last 15 years!!!

    What really boggles the mind is that these people have to judge really important cases like net neutrality or military hacking. Isn’t there some law requiring judges to have at least some basic common knowledge about the cases they have to judge??? If not, that law should be made!!!

  3. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    This is par for the course. They are all completely detached from American life.

  4. tom b Says:

    Maybe the Vatican knows more about this than our Supreme Court…

  5. Jim Harper Says:

    It’s probably true that the justices don’t get the technology, but it’s easy to over-read these quotes. Justice Scalia may have asked the question that way, for example, to make the point to other justices that you can’t (generally) print a text message. Decorum requires justices to ask counsel questions, but they sometimes use questions to make points to each other, rather than just debating directly.

    Also, it appears from the write-up on DC Dicta that Justice Alito knows the technology better than Quon’s attorney, who didn’t know that the service provider will (likely) still have a copy of the message after the user deletes it from his or her phone.

    To the extent the justices are ignorant, they all have clerks – very bright recent law grads – who will help straighten them out.

  6. Paul Says:


    Your lack of understanding about the law and the requirements to legally define things without making assumptions is troubling to the field of journalism. The Justices are testing the lawyers intellectually so that assumptions don’t form the basis of a future decision.

    Jon Gruber of owned up to his initial mocking of out-of-context quotes after reading the full transcript. Let’s see if you’re enough of a person to read up before assuming the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are ignorant technological luddites.

  7. A B Says:

    Judges, including the Justices, can’t be experts in every subject. They often require summaries regarding specific fields of knowledge during trials; you can generally find such “findings of fact” in their decisions. These findings represent, among other things, the disputing parties’ agreed-upon understanding of any technologies in question. I’d be surprised if such findings of fact didn’t form part of the lower courts’ record in this matter, and those findings would be taken into account in the Supreme Court’s deliberations.

    The bigger point, though, is that without the full transcript of the oral arguments, it’s too easy to misrepresent the Justices’ level of understanding.

  8. smart ass Says:

    what you fail to do is spell "knowledge" right

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