Justice Thomas’s “Paperless” Chambers and Technology at One First Street

November 3rd, 2014

During a cool event at Yale Law School, we learned that Justice Thomas is the leading technological evangelist at One First Street. He explained that he uses email, though others at the Court don’t.

I use email, but when I first got to the court there was not internal email. So I don’t think we have gotten there yet. In time we will start communicating by internal email. I was in charge in those days of the automation. We have all that now.

Sotomayor acknowledged that “The most computer savvy Justice is you Clarence.”  Alito added, “The communications about cases are almost all written except when we’re in conference.”

Thomas also noted that they have the capability to edit documents with track changes, and that his chambers is virtually “paperless.” But the other Justices prefer to do it the old-fashioned way.

We have tracked changes. We can do a lot of things on a computer on a document together.  But we don’t do it. I do it with my law clerks. But as between each other, I think people prefer hard copies. I work almost exclusively paperless intrachambers. I think at some point we will do it in the court.

Justice Sotomayor quipped that there are “two reasons why Justices don’t use technology. One is tradition. The other is that they don’t know how.” Thomas chuckled back, “Then there’s that.”

One of the other most technically-savvy Justices was Justice Stevens. Justice Sotomayor explained, “Almost 90-year old Justice, Justice Stevens did use email. You could send him email, and he would respond. But it would be short. You knew he wasn’t a great typist.” Though she wouldn’t name names about which Justices are computer illiterate. “Colleagues who might be otherwise, you would be surprised don’t” use computers.

Thomas explained that “Justice Stevens was my ally in automating the agency. He was a very productive man. We dreaded when he went to Florida because he started churning all this stuff back. You are 80% as productive as you are in florida. When there is consternation about automation, I could always count on him to help convince my colleagues.”

I have heard that even before email, Justice Stevens would routinely FedEx packages overnight from his home in Florida.