Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued his traditional end-of-year report on the state of the courts late last month, or as Elie Mystal at The Nation deems it, his annual “long-winded holiday card where Roberts tells a hokey story while wearing his latest ugly sweater.” If anything, Mystal undersells just how ridiculous this report is.
Start with this premise from Roberts: “Every year, I use the Year-End Report to speak to a major issue relevant to the whole federal court system. As 2023 draws to a close with breathless predictions about the future of Artificial Intelligence, some may wonder whether judges are about to become obsolete.”
Yes, because after a year of revelations exposing Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito as wholly owned subsidiaries of Leonard Leo’s vast, right-wing, dark-money network, what the American people really want to know is if AI is going to replace judges. Someone spent too much time watching bad sci-fi over the long holiday, it seems.
Roberts also spent some of that time—and a few pages of this report—researching the history of technology at the Supreme Court, from quills to personal computers (or, just as likely, made one of his clerks do it). That includes a foray into the development of the typewriter. No, really.
“The transition to more modern forms of document production began 150 years ago, with the appearance of the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, first manufactured in 1873 and famous shortly thereafter as the Remington,” Roberts informs a riveted audience. Then it gets really exciting.
The typewriter era lasted a century. On cue, fifty years ago a device called the Altair appeared on the market. Many historians consider the Altair to have been the first personal computer. It marked a significant step in the transition from large, stationary computers, like the Sperry Univac, housed in corporate and university buildings, to small, mobile devices designed for personal use in offices and living rooms.
This. This is the deep thinking John Roberts is doing when envisioning the immediate future of the courts. Granted, AI in the law has become an issue this year. There was the case of a lazy lawyer using ChatGPT to do research and write a filing in a personal injury suit. They got caught. They got sanctioned by a judge, as well.
Sort of like how Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch got caught heavily borrowing from other scholars in his book and an academic article, in which he “borrowed from the ideas, quotes and structures of scholarly and legal works without citing them,” according to Politico. Except that, of course, Gorsuch wasn’t sanctioned by anybody. He got a lifetime job on the highest court of the land. Chief Justice Roberts hasn’t publicly pondered that situation.
Instead, he’s been busy with this diversion into the development of the typewriter, a massive and utterly ridiculous attempt to change the subject from the corruption surrounding him in his failing institution. A diversion not unlike the one he tried a few months ago with the fig leaf of an ethics code he introduced. The one that the whole court has supposedly always been adhering to, pinkie swear. The one that is totally unenforceable.
Should we be worried about AI taking over the Supreme Court? To quote Mystal: “I doubt it would do much worse than our current system, which forces us to live under rules divined by Sam Alito after he processes 15 straight hours of Fox News.”