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.


Trump rejects Putin’s proposal to let Russia interrogate US citizens

US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting on July 18, 2018, at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 20 July 2018
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Trump rejects Putin’s proposal to let Russia interrogate US citizens

  • Mueller is investigating possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia
  • Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump rejected Thursday a proposal by Vladimir Putin to allow Russian officials to interrogate a former US ambassador and other American citizens, amid outrage across Washington that he would even consider it.
While Trump originally called the idea an “incredible offer,” and continued to weigh it through Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said he has now decided against it.
“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” Sanders said.
Putin unveiled the proposal in a joint press conference with Trump on Monday following their summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland.
Asked whether he would extradite 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted in the United States last week for hacking Democratic Party computers, he said he could meet the US government “halfway.”
“We can actually permit official representatives of the United States... into the country and they will be present at this questioning” of the 12 inside Russia.
“Then we would expect that the Americans would reciprocate and they would question officials, including the officers of law enforcement and intelligence services of the United States ... who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia, and we have to request the presence of our law enforcement.”
For Russia, the focus of the quid-pro-quo was questioning former US envoy to Russia Michael McFaul and 11 others in Moscow’s case against billionaire investor and human rights activist William Browder, the driving force behind Magnitsky Act sanctions on Russian officials passed by the US Congress.
“I think that’s an incredible offer,” Trump responded in Helsinki.

McFaul expressed outrage on Wednesday when Sanders said Trump was “going to meet with his team” to consider Putin’s proposal.
But on Thursday Sanders made clear a deal with Putin was not in the cards.
“Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt,” said Sanders.
“It’s not going to happen,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed late Thursday.
“There were suggestions, comments, thoughts by President Putin with respect to that inquiry. President Trump was very clear we’re not going to force Americans to go to Russia to be interrogated by the Russians,” he said.
The indictments issued last week by special counsel Robert Mueller allege that the Russian hackers publicly released tens of thousands of stolen Democratic emails and documents using “fictitious online personas.”
Mueller is investigating possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Sanders made the statement just as the US Senate took up a resolution objecting to any move by the Trump administration to make US officials available for questioning by Russian government officials.
In a sharp rebuke to the White House, the resolution passed with unanimous support from both parties, 98-0.
“Let this resolution be a warning to the administration that Congress will not allow this to happen,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.