This seems more like a scene out of Night Court rather than the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States knows everything in the legal world. They do not, however, know everything about modern technology. That much was driven home, it seems, during today’s oral arguments in the case City of Ontario v. Quon. The case examines whether a California police department violated the constitutional rights of an employee when it inspected personal text messages sent and received by a pager owned by the city of Ontario, Calif.
According to this story, the first sign of trouble came was about midway through the argument, when Chief Justice John Roberts asked what the difference was “between email and a pager?”
Another classic came when Justice Anthony Kennedy asked basically if wires get crossed if a text message is sent to an officer at the same time someone was texting someone else. He said “Does it say: ‘Your call is important to us, and we will get back to you?’” While this question makes very little sense (seriously, read it again, we dare you), it is a sad harbinger of the cascade of calamitous comments made during this case.
Meanwhile, Justice Antonin Scalia couldn’t get his mind around the idea of a service provider. He didn’t get that there was a middle-man relaying text messages to and from people.
“You mean (the text) doesn’t go right to me?” he asked.
Then he asked whether they can be printed out. (sigh)
“Could Quon print these spicy little conversations and send them to his buddies?” Scalia asked.
Update: Over at True/Slant, Kashmir Hill adds a bit more to the story, pointing out that it wasn’t just the justices who seemed to lack “familiarity with technology issues.”