Supreme Court to move legal filings online

Supreme Court to move legal filings online
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court plans to adopt an online filing system for legal documents as soon as 2016, an important step for a body critics say has been slow to use new information technologies.

As a first step, many legal documents will be made available online as the court transitions to making electronic filings the official avenue for parties to submit documents, Chief Justice John Roberts announced in his year-end report released Wednesday night. The system would accept petitions, briefs and all other motions.

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“The Court expects that electronic filing will be the official means for all parties represented by counsel, but paper filings will still be required,” he said.

Lower federal courts already use online databases to store similar information, which is made available to the public usually for a small fee. That system is also being updated, Roberts noted.

The court's year-end report, though, did not discuss the issue of allowing cameras in the courtroom, which advocates and members of Congress have pushed for for years.

Roberts said the court has been purposely slow to adopt new technology or embrace the “next big thing” because of its role. He cited a number of reasons, from the appropriations and procurement process to making sure that every member of the public — and not just the “most tech savvy” — can access the records.

He also touched on the specter of court records being hacked into, noting the sensitivity of some documents.

“Courts understandably proceed cautiously in introducing new information technology systems until they have fairly considered how to keep the information contained therein secure from foreign and domestic hackers, whose motives may range from fishing for secrets to discrediting the government or impairing court operations,” he wrote.