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Don’t know much ’bout technology…

The justices of the United States Supreme Court apparently don’t know much about how today’s modern technology works.

Lawyers USA had the skinny this past week, in a blog post that has gone viral. Check it out here.

Kimberly Atkins, our colleague in the District, writes “DC Dicta,” a blog dedicated to following the Supreme Court, Congress, just about anything in Washington that affects the legal profession. She routinely attends proceedings at the high court.

On Monday, she reported on arguments in City of Ontario v. Quon, a case about whether police officers have an expectation of privacy in personal text messages (some of them sexually explicit) sent on pagers issued by the city.

The court’s tech deficit became apparent about halfway through arguments. The first clue: Chief Justice John G. Roberts asked, what is the difference “between e-mail and a pager?”

Other justices were similarly flummoxed, asking, among other things, if you could get a text message while sending one and if cops could print out the text messages.

Or as Justice Antonin Scalia put it, “Could [the officer] print these spicy little conversations and send them to his buddies?”

In fairness to the court, Kim also reported that one of the lawyers did no better. He got wrapped around the axle when asked whether the texts could be deleted permanently or not by the wireless carrier, ultimately conceding he didn’t know the answer.

One hopes they all – justices and lawyers combined – get it figured out before an opinion is handed down.


  1. Context matters. A review of the transcript (http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/08-1332.pdf) reveals that the Justices aren’t as ignorant of technology as the isolated quotes would appear to make them.

  2. Well written article.

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