Slate carries a column on the aging and senility of the federal judiciary, a topic that could very well be related to the US Supreme Court, where the current average age is 65 (this doesn’t sound so bad till one realizes that it’s the arithmetic mean and that the “I stayed till I was too damn old and finally retired” crowd are often deputized back into courts of appeals).

One major problem is that the federal judiciary is where much of the law concerning new technology is being made, and as Slate’s article makes plain, the elderly/senile judiciary is chock-full of people who have major issues understanding, much less ruling on, technology. To wit:

Some of the lawyers figured that Owen, whose chambers came with a mimeograph machine when he became a judge in 1973, was just behind the times. Others wondered if the judge’s memory was failing him. After all, the most famous case in his long career—the back-to-back trials of Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone—had revolved around a single e-mail. Yet he now acted as though this was the first he was hearing about it. “He didn’t understand what was happening in his own courtroom,” said one lawyer present that day.

The implications of a senile judiciary are staggering. For instance, some lawyers have taken to sticking a boilerplate “copyright phrase” in the signature for each of their emails, and there’s surprising debate on whether you can, legally, do things like publish the Cease-and-Desist letter some shyster snake just sent you claiming a blog entry ‘s fake name is too close to his non-trademarked, imaginary trucking company’s name; imagine the chilling effects on public discourse should some 85-year-old fool actually decide that someone letting the world know when, say, The National Pork Board do something stupid constituted a “criminal act.”

It goes beyond that, however. Consumer rights are constantly eroded thanks to overbroad “copyright laws” that forbid going around “Digital Rights Management” and shrinkwrap-licenses, the net effect of which is to put pretty much nothing but a speedbump in the way of those who will copy various things (the term “Piracy” being not quite apt, and perhaps the term “Jesusing” after the parable of the fishes and the loaves being a better choice for creating multiple copies out of nothing), but offers all layers of annoyance and nuisance for people who want to do very legitimate things like load an alternate operating system into a computer-system such as the Sony Playstation 3.

If the federal judiciary were not so ancient, senile, and easily bamboozled, consumer rights might not vanish quite so rapidly. As it stands, though, the senile fools on the US Supreme Court could not even be convinced that the US Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto laws would block things such as Bill Clinton’s retroactive tax increases or Congresses repeated, retroactive “copyright term extensions.”

Category: Courthouse

About the Author

6 Responses to Senile Old Fools in Black Robes

  1. trumwill says:

    Some interesting points. I’ll have to think about it further. I have been thinking about it from the opposite direction, that some of our judges are too young. Namely, that presidents appoint younger, less experienced judges to high posts so that they will serve on the bench longer and make their legacy last longer. But from a technology standpoint, what you say makes sense.

    And to an extent, these ideas are not mutually exclusive. And the thoughts of term limits swimming in my head could alleviate either problem (though not both).

  2. Mike Hunt says:

    The article brings up a good point. State courts generally don’t have this problem. Here in PRNJ, members of the state supreme court are appointed to a seven year term to start. If they pass muster, they get a *lifetime* appointment. However, there is a mandatory retirement age of 65, which is a nice balance.

  3. trumwill says:

    In Delosa, the judges are elected. They tend to move on to lucrative private practice before getting too, too old. Of course, this leads to some pretty business-friendly rulings since they know who is going to be buttering their bread.

    65 is probably a little on the early side.

  4. Mike Hunt says:

    65 is probably a little on the early side.

    That’s because I was wrong. The mandatory retirement age is 70. Sorry about that.

  5. trumwill says:

    People’s Republic of New Jersey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.