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Supreme Court Chief Justice Warns Against AI Misuse in Upcoming Tumultuous Election Year

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Clear Facts

  • Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has urged caution in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in legal matters, highlighting potential risks to privacy and the dehumanization of law.
  • Roberts’ comments came in the annual year-end report, which did not address current controversies surrounding the Supreme Court, such as calls for greater transparency and ethics reform.
  • The Chief Justice and his colleagues are set to tackle several politically-charged disputes in the coming year, many of which are related to former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles and re-election efforts.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has expressed concern over the potential pitfalls of artificial intelligence (AI) in deciding cases and other significant legal matters. His comments were made in the annual year-end report issued by the head of the federal judiciary. Notably, the report did not touch on the ongoing controversies surrounding the Supreme Court, such as demands for increased transparency and binding ethics reforms for the justices.

Roberts, acknowledging the legal profession’s notorious aversion to change, advocated for a measured approach when integrating new technologies into the courts.

“AI obviously has great potential to dramatically increase access to key information for lawyers and non-lawyers alike,” he said. “But just as obviously it risks invading privacy interests and dehumanizing the law.”

The Chief Justice further emphasized the need for caution and humility in the use of AI. “As 2023 draws to a close with breathless predictions about the future of Artificial Intelligence, some may wonder whether judges are about to become obsolete. I am sure we are not— but equally confident that technological changes will continue to transform our work.”

In his report, Roberts also summarized the work of the nation’s 94 district courts, 13 circuit courts, and his own Supreme Court. Previous year-end reports have focused on courthouse security, judges’ pay, rising caseloads, and budgets.

However, the Chief Justice’s predictions did not include his own court’s caseload. He and his colleagues are set to address several politically-charged disputes in the coming year, many of which are centered on former President Donald Trump’s legal issues and re-election efforts.

The Supreme Court has a history of dealing with election disputes, but the upcoming 2024 election is expected to bring unprecedented judicial drama. One of the first issues could be whether states can keep Trump’s name off primary and general election ballots. This question arises from a 14th Amendment provision that bans from office those who “engaged in insurrection.”

State courts across the country are considering whether Trump’s role in the 2020 election interference and the January 6 Capitol riots would disqualify him from seeking re-election. The justices are being asked to make a decision quickly, either by mid-February or early March, in time for the “Super Tuesday” primaries in 16 states.

As the “first among equals,” Roberts will likely play a crucial role in determining which voting disputes his court will hear and ultimately decide. Despite a 6-3 conservative majority, the Chief Justice has often sought a middle ground, frustrating his more right-leaning colleagues.

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However, the court seems destined to be involved in election-related controversies.

“Given the number of election disputes it might be coming, a lot of them could be moving very quickly and will be very important to see what the court does,” said Brianne Gorod, chief counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center.

“Sometimes the Supreme Court has no choice but to be involved in the election cases, because there are some voting rights and election cases that the justices are required to resolve on the merits.”

The Supreme Court is already considering redistricting challenges to voting boundaries in GOP-leaning states, brought by civil rights groups. This includes South Carolina’s first congressional district and claims that the Republican-led legislature created a racial gerrymander. A ruling is expected in spring 2024.

The high court could also be asked to weigh in on emergency appeals over vote-by-mail restrictions, provisional ballots deadlines, polling hours, the Electoral College, and more.

Just weeks before President Trump’s first House impeachment in 2019, Roberts attempted to downplay his court’s consideration of partisan political disputes.

“When you live in a polarized political environment, people tend to see everything in those terms,” Roberts said at the time. “That’s not how we at the court function and the results in our cases do not suggest otherwise.”

However, the court’s reputation as a fair arbiter of the law and Constitution has continued to decline. A Fox News poll in June found just 48% of those surveyed having confidence in the Supreme Court, down from 83% just six years ago.

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Donald Trump faces separate criminal prosecution in four jurisdictions in 2024 — two federal cases over document mishandling and 2020 election interference; and two state cases in Georgia over 2020 election interference and New York over hush money payments to a porn star.

The prospect of a former president and leading GOP candidate facing multiple criminal convictions — with or without the blessing of the United States Supreme Court — has the potential to dominate an already riven election campaign.

The former president has filed various motions in each case, seeking to drop charges, delay the proceedings, and be allowed to speak publicly at what he sees as politically-motivated prosecutions.

The Supreme Court recently refused to fast-track a separate appeal, over Trump’s scheduled criminal trial scheduled to start the day before “Super Tuesday.”

Special counsel Jack Smith is challenging Trump’s claim of presidential immunity in the 2020 election interference case. The former president says the prosecutions amount to a “partisan witch hunt.”

While the justices are staying out of the dispute for now, they could quickly jump back in later this winter, after a federal appeals court decides the merits in coming weeks.

But the justices will decide this term whether some January 6 Capitol riot defendants can challenge their convictions for “corruptly” obstructing “official proceedings.” Oral arguments could be held in February or March.

More than 300 people are facing that same obstruction law over their alleged efforts to disrupt Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory over Trump.

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The former president faces the same obstruction count in his case, and what the high court decides could affect Trump’s legal defense in the special counsel prosecution, and the timing of his trial.

In the short term, the Supreme Court, with its solid conservative majority, will hear arguments and issue rulings in coming months on hot-button topics like abortion, executive power, social media, and gun rights.

Off the bench, the court last month instituted a new “code of conduct” — ethics rules to clarify ways the justices can address conflicts of interest, case recusals, activities they can participate in outside the court and their finances.

It followed months of revelations that some justices, particularly Clarence Thomas, did not accurately report gifts and other financial benefits on their required financial disclosure reports.

The court in a statement admitted the absence of binding ethics rules led some to believe that the justices “regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules.”

“To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”

All this reflects the delicate balancing act the chief justice will navigate in a presidential election year.

The unprecedented criticism of the high court’s work — on and off the bench — is not lost on its nine members.

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“There’s a storm around us in the political world and the world at large in America,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said this fall. “We, as judges and the legal system, need to try to be a little more, I think, of the calm in the storm.”

Some court watchers agree the court as an institution may struggle in the near term to preserve its legitimacy and public confidence, but time might be on its side.

“By its nature, the court kind of takes a long-term view of things,” said Thomas Dupree, a former top Justice Department official, who has litigated cases before the Supreme Court.

“Even when we disagree with the outcome in a particular case, I have never had any doubt that these are men and women who are doing their absolute best to faithfully apply the laws and the Constitution of the United States to reach the right result.”

Clear Thoughts (op-ed)

Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent cautionary stance on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in legal matters is commendable.

His emphasis on the potential risks to privacy and the dehumanization of law is a timely reminder that technology, while beneficial, should not overshadow the human element necessary for justice.

However, it’s intriguing to note that the Chief Justice’s annual year-end report conveniently sidesteps the ongoing controversies surrounding the Supreme Court.

Despite the legal profession’s aversion to change, there is an undeniable necessity for increased transparency and binding ethics reforms.

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As we approach an election year fraught with disputes, the Supreme Court must not only navigate the complexities of AI but also address its own internal issues.

Let us know what you think, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jeremy

    January 4, 2024 at 9:22 pm

    It doesn’t matter how the court rules on any politically charged topic. When they rule in favor of the constitution on issues like abortion, the left attacks them as being political hacks. When they ruled in favor of same sex marriage, the right attacked them too. Identity politics and increasing division between opposing points of view makes it so that any decision they make will anger one side or the other. The appointment of constitutionalist Justices was, in my opinion, one of the most important achievements accomplished by the Trump administration. It is proving to be the most difficult accomplishment for the Democrats to destroy.

  2. MartinKingJr

    January 5, 2024 at 6:49 pm

    A.I. has shown itself to be amoral and unreliable, both capable of lying and willing to disobey its own programming. In a study involving stock trading the A.I. engaged in insider trading in spite of being given the parameter that such trades were prohibited by law. When queried, it then denied having done so. In a current legal case involving Michael Cohen, his lawyer was forced to withdraw cases cited in pleadings because the cases cited were fictional. Those case citations were obtained by using A.I. to search for supporting case law, when it was unable to find support… it created some. In short Dave, you can’t trust HAL… especially if your life or civilization depends on it.

  3. William Johnson

    January 5, 2024 at 7:10 pm

    Our CONSTITUTION must prevail in all cases
    We don read between the lines to interpret our CONSTITUTION and when in doubt the CONSTITUTION Prevails!

  4. Ephraim Ponce

    January 5, 2024 at 11:19 pm

    Don’t give me that. If he sought a middle ground, why was Roe overturned?

    • inyoface

      January 6, 2024 at 12:30 pm

      And just where was middle ground? Leave a flawed original decision in place? They kicked it back to the States, which was in my opinion the correct ruling and about as “middle ground as you can get.

  5. Babsan

    January 6, 2024 at 2:43 pm

    Who actually believes that America and it’s Constitution means anything to the CCP supported swine(sorry pigs) so called Democrats?

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