What happens when you google Supreme Court Justices? Today, enter a search for “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg” and the results may bug you.
Instead of being associated with women’s rights or fighting for female equality, quite literally, Justice Ginsburg is now associated with bugs, the Ilomantis ginsburgae, to be exact. The scientific discovery of this species is notable as Sydney Brannoch, a Case Western Reserve University Ph.D. candidate, recently used the genitals of female praying mantises to distinguish it from other species.
Like other praying mantis’s, female Ilomantis ginsburgae take their male counterparts and rip off their heads. Now, the feminist insects share headlines with one of the most renowned courtroom warriors.
But, it may be Justice Ginsburg with the last laugh. What happens when Supreme Court Justices google you?
It turns out that Supreme Court Justices have been supplementing legal briefs with their own online research for years.
A former clerk to retired Justice David Souter recently studied 15 years worth of Supreme Court decisions. Allison Orr Larsen, who is a professor at William & Mary Law School, found more than 100 examples of asserted facts from authorities that were never mentioned in briefs attached to the same case.
Additionally, in 120 high-profile, newsworthy cases from 2000 to 2010, Larsen found nearly 60 percent contained facts researched in-house.
“Virtually all of the justices do it regardless of whether they are traditionally labeled liberal or conservative,” explains Larsen, via the article “Should Supreme Court justices Google?” by Robert Barnes for the Washington Post, “and they cite authorities they find themselves on a wide range of subject matter (from biology to history to golf).”
Is this due diligence or simply judicial curiosity?
The fact is, information is exceedingly accessible today. It’s impossible to ignore it.
“Now the justices (and their clerks and their librarians) are flooded with information literally at their fingertips. Social science studies, raw statistics, and other data are all just a Google search away,” writes Larsen.
“If the justices want more empirical support for a factual dimension of their argument, they can find it easily and without the help of anyone outside of the Supreme Court building.”
Many lawyers are starting to question the validity of this practice.
For example, in 2011, the court found a California law forbidding the sale of violent video games to minors violated the First Amendment. Justice Stephen G. Breyer in a dissent offered 13 pages of studies on the topic of psychological harm from playing violent video games. Justice Clarence Thomas cited 59 sources to support his view that the Founding Fathers believed that parents had absolute control over their children’s development—an overwhelming 57 of them were not in the briefs submitted in the case.
Fair or not, do you know what Justices will find when they google you or your client? More importantly, do professionals at your firm possess the technological skills to do the same due diligence?
So, before your brief gets beheaded by the prying eyes of praying judges, find out what’s online and how it could affect your case—before it’s too late.