US Supreme Court enters 21st Century, takes a technological step forward

This file photo taken on June 15, 2017 shows a police officer standing guard on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. (AFP / JIM WATSON)
Updated 10 November 2017
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US Supreme Court enters 21st Century, takes a technological step forward

WASHINGTON: Surely but slowly, the Supreme Court is entering the 21st century. The court is making new legal filings available online starting Monday, years behind the rest of the federal court system.
Can livestreamed audio of arguments and even televised sessions be far behind? Yes, they can.
But advocates of court openness will take what they can get for now, especially because the Supreme Court will not charge for documents. The federal courts’ PACER system does charge fees.
“Though the Supreme Court has moved glacially to join the rest of the judiciary in permitting online filing, that’s better than not at all, and the institution should be commended for creating an e-filing system that, unlike PACER, will be free and easily accessible to the public,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court.
Over the years, the justices have at times shown a glancing familiarity with technology. Some carry computer tablets with high court briefs loaded on them. But notes between justices are routinely sent on paper, definitely not by email.
Chief Justice John Roberts himself noted a few years back that the court stuck with pneumatic tubes to transmit newly released opinions from the courtroom to reporters waiting one floor below until 1971, long after their heyday.
Roberts said that it’s appropriate for courts “to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity” because their primary role is to resolve disputes fairly.
Many Supreme Court legal briefs already are available online and for free from several sources. Scotusblog.com obtains and posts many of them, along with opinions. The Justice Department has an easily accessible archive of its extensive high court filings on its website, and the American Bar Association posts briefs in the 70 to 80 cases the court agrees to hear each term.
But the public may not know to look elsewhere. When the justices issued their highly anticipated decision upholding President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in 2012, the court’s website was overwhelmed.
It, too, has recently been overhauled to make it friendlier to the public.
The Supreme Court updates come amid criticism of the PACER system as outmoded and unfair. “The PACER system used by the lower federal courts is hopelessly outdated and cumbersome. And, to add insult to injury, the PACER system charges people fees to access court records that should be made freely available,” said Deepak Gupta, the lead attorney in a class-action lawsuit challenging PACER fees.
The judiciary says the fees provide the only money to pay for the system.
The cost to users was just one among several reasons the court opted not to join the PACER system, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
“The court elected to design its system in-house so that it would have the capability to customize and continuously update to meet the distinctive needs of the court and counsel,” Arberg said.
Until now, lawyers have not been required to submit their filings to the court electronically. Beginning Monday, those documents should appear quickly on the court’s website. People who can’t afford to pay court costs will be allowed to file paper copies, which Supreme Court employees will scan and post online.
Not everything is changing. Lawyers still will be required to submit up to 40 paper copies of every brief, and the court’s color-coding system to distinguish types of briefs also will remain.
There’s no timetable for electronic filings to supplant paper as the official court record.
And there’s also no expectation that the justices will drop their prohibition on cameras in the courtroom anytime soon.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who once sounded open to cameras, recently told a New York audience that cameras might detract from the robust exchanges during arguments.
The Supreme Court also refuses to livestream audio of its arguments, even as the federal appeals court just down Capitol Hill recently has allowed live audio access to its hearings. The high court posts transcripts within hours of arguments, but doesn’t release the audio for days.


Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

Updated 30 min 51 sec ago
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Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

  • Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
  • This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).

MANILA: On Sunday, Filipino Muslims will start their pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj — a pinnacle in every Muslim’s life.
Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
Aside from the Filipino Muslims, some foreign diplomats will be among the delegates from the Philippines.
“There are diplomats who want to join us. They are requesting to be included. These are from the Libyan Embassy, UAE and Iran. They want to join us,” Mandia told Arab News.
“They can just arrange for their Hajj visa but they need to be accommodated in our housing and space in Mina and Arafat,” Mandia continued, as he explained that housing accommodation for pilgrims is done country-to-country, which means that the NCMF has to write a request to the Ministry of Hajj for additional slots to accommodate the diplomats.
In 2017, a total of 6,032 Filipino Muslims performed Hajj, but the number has fallen slightly this year.
“Last year, we had a bigger number of pilgrims from the Philippines, but we’ve reduced it... because of stringent visa requirements,” said Mandia.
An incident in 2016 when dozens of Indonesians were intercepted using Filipino Hajj passports en route to Makkah, prompted the authorities to introduce tight measures to ensure that no other nationalities join the Philippine contingent’s pilgrimage.
“That’s one reason why they’ve been very strict on securing the passports. They don’t want a repeat of that controversy. We are still bearing the consequence of that anomaly,” said Mandia. “We have assured them (Saudi authorities) that we have taken steps in order to prevent that from happening again,” he added.
Of the 5,800 Filipino Muslim pilgrims, the majority are from Cotabato and Lanao provinces, and include pilgrims from war-torn Marawi City.
Mandia, who will also be performing Hajj this year, added: “I’m from Marawi. Our house was destroyed during the siege. We are still not allowed to go back as it is a restricted site even today. They said there are still live bombs there you could step on and get killed.”
When he performs the pilgrimage he said that it would be “a sigh of relief after all those problematic days,” referring to the five-month battle in Marawi.
On average, a Filipino Muslim spends up to 200,000 pesos on Hajj. Some lawmakers sponsor Hajj for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to make the trip, especially those from Marawi City who suffered major devastation during the siege.
The first two batches of pilgrims are scheduled to leave on July 22 on a Saudi Airlines flight. The country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), also has direct flights to take pilgrims from the Philippines to Madinah.
“Last year they (PAL) were not able to get landing permit, so we had to land in Kuwait and an airline in Kuwait flew them to Madinah. Now they have been able to secure a landing permit so they will be transporting pilgrims directly from Philippines to Madinah,” said Mandia.