Supreme Court moving to electronic filing

Supreme Court moving to electronic filing

In his 2014 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that the Supreme Court will proceed with “constant but deliberate progress” to make briefs and other filings available electronically.  

Acknowledging that the nationwide implementation of electronic case filing and case management (CM/ECF) tools have “revolutionized” case docketing and administration in the federal judiciary, Roberts wrote that the Supreme Court is “currently developing its own electronic filing system, which may be operational as soon as 2016.”

Once the system is implemented, all filings at the Court – petitions and responses to petitions, merits briefs, and all other types of motions and applications – will be available to the legal community and the public without cost on the Court’s website.

Initially, the official filing of documents will continue to be on paper for all parties in all cases, with the electronic submission an additional requirement for parties represented by attorneys. Once the system has operated effectively for some time and the Supreme Court Bar has become well acquainted with it, the Court expects that electronic filing will be the official means for all parties represented by counsel, but paper filings will still be required. Parties proceeding pro se will continue to submit documents only on paper, and Court personnel will scan and upload those documents to the system for public access. The Court will provide more information about the details of the system, including the process for attorneys to register as authorized filers, in the coming months.

Roberts acknowledged the slow pace of technology adoption at the Court, which still bans television coverage of oral arguments.

The federal courts, he wrote, must introduce new technologies at a more measured pace than other institutions, especially those in private industry.

That pace is dictated by federal appropriation and procurement processes, which sacrifice speed in favor of fairness, as well as obstacles that arise from the courts’ responsibilities and obligations for security and procedural fairness. The judiciary has a special duty to ensure, Roberts wrote, that its case filing system is readily accessible to and usable by the entire population, from the most tech savvy to the most tech-intimidated.

The Court must also satisfy its security concerns before launching any new systems. Because litigation often involves collection of confidential information, the courts will “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,” Roberts wrote.

Additionally, the federal judiciary’s decentralized organization will require extensive consultation with judges, court staff and lawyers across the country, before a nationwide initiative can be rolled out.

The discussions, Roberts wrote, will ensure that “a national system takes due account of local experience, including both successes and failures.” 

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