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When Ibid. Meets iPod

March 30, 2005

Even on a day when justices heard historic arguments on global online sharing of music files, let's agree it's hard to picture a U.S. Supreme Court member bouncing along to Gwen Stefani or Kanye West on an iPod. Lawrence Welk maybe, on an eight-track in a blimp-sized Buick. But to them, Ludacris is an obvious misspelling.

With an average age, according to recent photographs, exceeding 110 years, the nine justices are seen by many as culturally preparing to enter the 1950s, well before millions felt that one necessity of life is the ability to pocket hundreds of songs for instant reverie.

In Tuesday's hearing, the justices seemed more serious than called for, certainly at Spring Break time. Their questioning during oral arguments indicated concerns for both sides -- about impeding technology through limits on online file-sharing and about allowing profits from piracy of copyrighted material to finance new technology. "That seems wrong to me," said Justice Anthony Kennedy, who perhaps was trying a new Sony PlayStation behind his desk.

Thank goodness for law clerks not yet into pension planning. In a traditional institution that now routinely uses ballpoint pens but still gives appearing attorneys white quills, these younger people have proved crucial in keeping justices focused on important issues and away from elder pranks, like shaving-cream-filled briefcases. They've also introduced the justices to something called e-mail, and they help with that baffling attachment business when a justice wants to e-mail a great-grandchild's photo.

What's next, text messaging?

One can only imagine the justices' secret exchanges during oral arguments when they appear to be listening: "Ck out blonds behind plaintiff table." During a lawyer's earnest presentation, one justice messages, "Zat a toupee?" The response: "LOL!" Another adds, "This guy's a napster." At one point a justice begins transmitting photos of his new boat moored on the Potomac and contemplates a pier-to-pier trip to the Maryland shore . "Zackly how," another asks in a Reply to All, "do they get all those musical notes into such a little box?"

Several clerks reportedly quit because, after a Hawaii trip, one justice has all his office computers programmed to play Don Ho's "Tiny Bubbles" nonstop. Several justices have copied numerous Welk songs, even some spunky polkas. At least two justices, however, favor Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" for writing minority opinions. For majority opinions, they download that old faithful, "We Are the Champions."

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