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

Future Tense
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.

  Slate Plus
Slate Archives
Nov. 26 2014 12:36 PM Slate Voice: “If It Happened There,” Thanksgiving Edition Josh Keating reads his piece on America’s annual festival pilgrimage.