The Amazingly Sad Thing Not One Supreme Court Justice Can Do

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan recently revealed that her colleagues at the Court are not the tech-savvy, up-to-date, social media-wielding guardians of modern American society we thought they were. Shocking, right? Speaking in Rhode Island on Tuesday, Justice Kagan said that some of her fellow colleagues are still figuring out how to use online technologies like Twitter, Facebook, and even personal email.

Kagan is the most recent addition to the Court, and the youngest Justice at age 53. The average age of a justice today is 67-and-a-half. Most of the justices still communicate with each other by hand writing memos, hard copies of which are printed on ivory paper and carried to its destination by a chambers aide.

While this lack of technological awareness might seem trivial, it is not. Think about the ramifications of the most powerful judges in America making decisions on 21st century issues as if they are stuck in the 1980s. How are these people, who are sworn to uphold the Constitution, going to properly rule on upcoming cases involving military robots, technology, privacy, the internet, and electronic surveillance if they can barely work an inbox? These issues are of immense importance to the daily lives of the American people.

When a Supreme Court justice is sworn in, he or she has tenure for life, or as long as he or she wishes to remain on the bench. This was implemented so that justices make decisions on legal cases free from popular opinion. Justices need not worry about returning to office for another term. They do not have to fret about keeping an electorate happy in order to stay in power. If a justice rules a certain way on a case that angers a percentage of Americans, he or she is immune from being voted out. That’s a good thing. However, this immunity granted to the justices runs the risk of creating super-smart, old legal experts who are out of touch with the times.

If lack of technological awareness among Supreme Court justices is the problem here, then what is the solution? Perhaps liberating a justice from technology’s constraining grip on the enables them to more efficiently decide on cases because they can focus purely on the issue of constitutionality rather than look cases through their a specific historical lens. More likely, however, this dilemma will to lead to some interesting opinions in future court rulings. Each branch of government must modernize if we are to figure out how to alleviate the legal tensions developing between America’s history of democracy and our sprint into the technology-driven society of the future.

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Alexander de Avila

Alexander is a Political columnist at PolicyMic. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College's school of Government, focusing his studies on international politics and the impact of emerging technologies on government and war. He has experience working at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and as a research assistant at TSKB in Istanbul exploring alternative energy sources.

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