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Our Low-Tech High Court

At 53, Elena Kagan is the youngest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The oldest is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turned 80 on March 15. The average age of sitting justices is 67 years 4 months.


Technology has changed a lot in the 27 years since Antonin Scalia took his seat on the court.

The typical Fortune 500 CEO (average age: 55) might find it odd that the justices have all but shunned modern methods of communication.

As Kagan explained it this week in a speech in Providence, R.I., "The justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people ... The court hasn't really gotten to email." Chief Justice John Roberts, who's 58, has previously admitted that he writes his opinions in longhand.

It's not that the court lacks the facilities or the resources for up-to-the-minute communications; in fact, the building is practically brand-spanking-new, having gone through a major renovation and restoration over the past several years. An IT staff is on duty round-the-clock just in case a justice might want to, I don't know, Skype?

But that's not the way things happen at the Supreme Court. Kagan, who clerked at the court more than 25 years ago, says that communications have not really changed there since 1987. The justices still circulate memos on ivory paper, and an aide walks them around from "chambers" (the name for a justice's office) to chambers.

Of course, the justice's clerks - recent law school graduates who spend a year at the court - help them figure out technology. In fact, some understanding of the Internet and like mysteries is pretty much essential for today's justices and those who work for them. Three years ago, the court decided a case dealing with privacy rights in text and pager messages, and two years ago, it struck down a law restricting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

Naturally, Kagan admits, the justices, having never played the games, had to try them out. Can't you just see Ginsburg and Scalia (who are good friends) facing off  in Mortal Kombat?


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