August 01, 2012

The Lure of the Internet and the Limits on Judicial Fact Research

For judges, the act of looking up information on the Internet can easily turn into independent fact research outside the record.

Elizabeth G. Thornburg

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What, if anything, is wrong with these lyrics:

If every judge could have an iPad / Across the courts today
Then everybody’d be surfin’ / On Wikipedi-ay
They’d all be friending on Facebook / And using Google too
The record’s just the beginning / Surfin’ USA

OK, this version mangles the Beach Boys’ classic, but what about its vision of the role of the judge? Today it is second nature for most of us to turn to our laptops, smartphones, and tablet computers with their instant Internet access to look up just about anything we’re curious about. How did we ever live without the ability to check movie times, read restaurant reviews, and look up the name of the prime minister of Canada at the click of a mouse or tap of a finger? It would be profoundly countercultural for a judge who wants more information not to do the same. And while the Internet is not itself the issue—the issue is independent fact research outside the record, whatever the medium—the Internet has made research much easier and much more common.

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