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This is how the Supreme Court embraces technology. Slowly. It took a worldwide pandemic for the court to agree to hear arguments over the telephone, with audio available live for the first time. C-SPAN plans to carry the arguments.

Just two years ago case filings were made available online, decades after other courts. Other forays into technology, including posting opinions online, have not always gone smoothly.

Chief Justice John Roberts  acknowledged in 2014 that courts will always be cautious when it comes to embracing the “next big thing” in technology.

And even the decision to hold arguments via telephone is “sort of retro,” given much of the country and other courts are doing meetings and arguments using video conferencing, said Clare Cushman, the director of publications at the Supreme Court Historical Society.

But the decision remains a “giant leap forward,” Cushman said, for a court that has shunned technology in favor of tradition. The court used an obsolete document delivery system, pneumatic tubes, until 1971. It was slow to add computers and late in transitioning from printing opinions in the court’s basement on Linotype machines, which used metal type, to electronic printing in the early 1980s.

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