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Judiciary 2.0?

With a nascent Obama presidency founded on the principles of transparency and a Congress who all of a sudden recognized that technology is a friend and not a foe, the term Government 2.0 has spread like wildfire these past few months. There’s just one flaw the people leading this charge are not discussing: where’s the third branch of government in this new social experiment?

The Supreme Court is always the last to move on social change. They have to because they are the arbiters of society; they set the rules and dictate which way the country moves — a little to left during the 50s and 60s, a little to the right 80s and 90s — and they can’t just adopt every new fancy and shiny technology. But I find it curious that the Institution of Law is playing a very little role right now in how social media operates. It could be because the Founders didn’t envision a) technology or b) a shift to where the public has control.

When it comes to the judiciary, what will the effect of a communications tool, like Twitter, have on the court? How much pressure will the court receive to be more responsive, more transparent?

It must be noted that in today’s fast-paced, Twitter-induced world, the courts move particularly slowly. When the Supreme Court hears a case, there’s no quick decision. We’re not going to get their ruling in 2 hours like we see on film. In fact, after the Nine hear a case, they come back usually 6 months later and issue their opinion.

Traditionally, the courts have been reluctant to move with the wind of the day and in today’s ADD-addled communications landscape, it’s doubtful we’re going to see Justice Scalia using Twitter on the Bench anytime soon.

Add to this that recording devices like cameras or cell phones are not allowed in Federal courts and we see how the third part of our checks and balances system hides in the shadows. Many people can name a few (if not all) of the Supremes. But how many of you can name a Federal judge? Did you know that Federal judges are appointed for life, too? The idea of assigning life-long services to judges, they rise above politics (how has that worked out?).

All this means, with no communication tools, the U.S. judiciary is far removed from every day life. Social networks can bring them into the mainstream and make them more accountable.

But the question that keeps popping up in my little brain is, is it feasible for the judiciary to use this new technology? The public used to get the Supreme Court’s rulings via case books before the advent of Lexis-Nexis. It would take a bit to sift through the opinions and figure out what they mean. Now, with Lexis-Nexis, the decision gets put up on the search site with an abstract of the key rulings. So the Court has shown that it can adapt, but can it evolve as quickly as society has with social networks?

The Court can slowly integrate social media via Twitter updates. While we don’t need to hear the internal dialogue (of which I would love to be a fly on that wall), clerks can let us know more about the inner workings of the judiciary, more about the cases they are hearing or deciding to hear, and overall, just become more accessible to the public.

The Court can feed our into our information overload in ways that can make us smarter about our government, which is what President Obama and Congress are trying to do. An educated electorate will foster debate and make Adam Smith’s “Marketplace of Ideas” a reality, not just theory.

What are your thoughts of a Judiciary 2.0?

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


One thought on “Judiciary 2.0?

  1. Hey Josh,I saw this WSJ.com item on cameras in the Supreme Court chambers last week:http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20090423-716524.htmlPerhaps live video streaming on the net (similar to CSPAN) may be the first step to what you mentioned?

    Posted by James Lisk | April 30, 2009, 3:29 pm

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