National briefs for January 8


Technology? Some justices want to keep distance

WASHINGTON — At the Supreme Court, technology can be regarded as a necessary evil, and sometimes not even necessary.

When the justices have something to say to each other in writing, they never do it by email. Their courthouse didn’t even have a photocopying machine until 1969, a few years after “Xerox” became a verb.

So, as the legal fight about the NSA’s high-tech collection of telephone records moves through the court system, possibly en route to the Supreme Court, some justices already are on record as saying they should be wary about taking on major questions of technology and privacy.

As Justice Elena Kagan understated last summer, “The justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people.”

The wariness shows up in rulings, too. When the court in 2010 upheld a police department’s warrantless search of an officer’s personal, sometimes sexually explicit messages on a government-owned pager, Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested caution.

He wrote, “The judiciary risks error by elaborating too fully on the Fourth Amendment implications of emerging technology before its role in society has become clear.”

Clear or not, the implications of technology are increasingly relevant. Constitutional protection against the prying eyes of government, without a judge’s prior approval, is embodied in the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Among those who think the Supreme Court will weigh in is Justice Antonin Scalia, who addressed the topic in July in a question-and-answer session with a technology group. He didn’t sound happy about the prospect of such a ruling. Scalia said the elected branches of government are better situated to balance security needs and privacy protections.

Judge: Ban on gun sales is unconstitutional

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge potentially opened a new market to gun dealers after ruling as unconstitutional Chicago ordinances that aim to reduce gun violence by banning their sale within the city’s limits.

U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang said Monday while the government has a duty to protect its citizens, it’s also obligated to protect constitutional rights, including the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. However, Chang said he would temporarily stay the effects of his ruling, meaning the ordinances can stand while the city decides whether to appeal.

The decision is just the latest to attack what were some of the toughest gun-control laws in the nation. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s long-standing gun ban. And last year, Illinois legislators were forced by a federal appeals court to adopt a law allowing residents to carry concealed weapons; it was the only state that still banned the practice.

 

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