Elena Kagan Admits Supreme Court Justices Haven’t Quite Figured Out Email Yet

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 20 2013 3:33 PM

Elena Kagan Admits Supreme Court Justices Haven’t Quite Figured Out Email Yet

Supreme Court tech savvy
Anthony Kennedy attempts to explain email to Ruth Bader Ginsburg: "Imagine if our chambers aides were super-fast and really tiny, and they could carry our ivory-paper memos through cables hidden in the walls ... "

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Speaking in Providence, R.I. on Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan admitted that she and her fellow justices are basically clueless when it comes to technology, the Associated Press reports.*

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

“The justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people,” the high court’s newest and youngest justice said. While clerks regularly email each other, the court as a whole “hasn’t really ‘gotten to’ email.” From the story:

When asked whether the justices email each other, Kagan said things are the same as when she clerked for the late Justice Thurgood Marshall three decades ago. She says justices write memos, which are then printed out on ivory paper that looks like it came from the 19th century. The memos are walked around the building by someone called a "chambers aide."
Advertisement

For her part, the 53-year-old Kagan said she uses personal email, goes online, and reads blogs. But she suggested that isn’t true of all of her older colleagues. And newfangled services like Facebook and Twitter are “a challenge for us,” she added.

Not that they aren’t trying. Kagan said that a case involving violent video games prompted some of her fellow justices to try their hands at a few of the titles in question. “It was kind of hilarious,” she recalled.

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.

*Correction, Aug. 20, 2013: This post originally stated that Kagan was speaking at Brown University in Providence, R.I. She was speaking with a Brown University historian and librarian at the Trinity Repertory Theatre.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.