Apr 26, 2017

Supreme Double Standard on Cell Phones in Court

I've written before about the fact that many courthouses "ban" cellphones and other electronic devices from parts of the building, or from the entire edifice, often have exemption for a select elite: judges and their staffs, often along with lawyers, police officers, and others.

Yesterday's incident at the U.S. Supreme Court points this out to an extreme.

The U.S. Supreme Court bans cell phones from its courtroom entirely. The ban includes the lawyers arguing cases, the media, and everyone else in the courtroom. Lockers are provided, and everyone must go through a metal detector.

Nevertheless, a cellphone rang out during oral argument yesterday. And it turned out that the phone belonged to Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. As Breyer apparently fumbled to shut off the phone, some of the other justices chuckled or smiled. (Of course, I can't show you this, because the Supreme Court does not allow still or video cameras.)

The media coverage of this incident has mainly treated it as a humorous distraction. And apparently its not the first time a cell phone has rung in the courtroom.

The Court's spokeswoman said that the incident was "an oversight," and that Breyer usually does bring his cellphone into the courtroom.

But it does point out the larger issue of courts imposing rules and policies on others barring cell phones, usually in the name of courtroom decorum, while exempting themselves.


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