Supreme Court to implement e-filing system

January 21st, 2015 | Posted by Kevin Corley in Document Management | Workflow

Soon the highest court in the U.S. will switch over to electronic filing in a huge move for content management services in the judicial system. 

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. announced at the start of the year that the Supreme Court will move to e-filing with the change expected to come around 2016, The New York Times reported. The highest judicial institution in the US. has long been a bit behind on technology, which makes the announcement that much more significant. The justices often still communicate in writing on paper, rather than by email or phone, and according to Roberts, the Supreme Court has had a "special obligation" to move slower than other institutions. 

"The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, must often introduce new technologies at a more measured pace than other institutions, especially those in private industry," he noted in a report announcing the intended switch from paper, according to the publication. 

Many lower courts have already moved to e-filing systems for their documents, though the Supreme Court has stuck to scanning pages to get its own files online, The Verge noted. However, the Supreme Court has never been quick about adopting systems that could prove useful. For example, it took the highest judicial branch in the country more than 40 years to adopts pneumatic tubes to send files. The consistent reluctance to adopt new technology has for most of its history held the Supreme Court back in terms of efficiency and ease of access.

Whether intentional or not, the Supreme Court's reluctance to advance technologically has made life difficult for individuals in search of court documents, The New York Times explained. It sends visitors to its website to the American Bar Association for copies of briefs, and it can be difficult to find copies of other documents in electronic formats, such as the over 7,000 petitions seeking review that are filed every year. 

"The courts will often choose to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity," Roberts explained, according to the news outlet. "While courts routinely consider evidence and issue decisions concerning the latest technological advances, they have proceeded cautiously when it comes to adopting new technologies in certain aspects of their own operations."

E-filing systems popular in lower courts for good reason
Despite the Supreme Court's late entry into the world of paperless filing, e-filing has become popular for lower courts across the country, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press noted. Kansas, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Texas all have courts up and down their respective judicial systems that have already adopted, or at least begun phasing in, e-filing systems. 

Courts that adopt content management services are more effective and more efficient, according to Thompson Reuters. E-filing systems provide people with better access to information on court cases – which means reporters, the public, the bench and the bar all will have an easier time finding accurate case information. Additionally, Supreme Court staff will likely find greater job satisfaction from systems that are easy to operate and allow them to be more productive. 

It took the Supreme Court nearly an additional 40 years to adopt, and then another 40 years to move on from the pneumatic tubes used by reporters to send briefs and other documents between floors in the courthouse, The New York Times noted. Now just over 40 years after the Washington Post in 1968 declared the tubes to be possibly the most "primitive" technology in the entire "communications industry," the Supreme Court will take another step in moving toward going paperless with its proposed e-filing service. Hopefully it won't take another 40 years for the Supreme Court take take its next step into the future. 

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