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  5. Chief Justice Roberts used his year-end report to ponder ethical uses of AI in law but didn't mention ethical questions circling the Supreme Court

Chief Justice Roberts used his year-end report to ponder ethical uses of AI in law but didn't mention ethical questions circling the Supreme Court

Hannah Getahun,Associated Press   

Chief Justice Roberts used his year-end report to ponder ethical uses of AI in law but didn't mention ethical questions circling the Supreme Court
  • Chief Justice John Roberts released his year-end review of the Supreme Court.
  • He took a lot of space writing about the potential of AI in the courtroom.

On Sunday, Chief Justice John Roberts turned his focus to the promise and shortcomings of artificial intelligence in the federal courts in an annual report that did not mention Supreme Court ethics or legal controversies involving Donald Trump.

Describing artificial intelligence as the "latest technological frontier," Roberts discussed the pros and cons of computer-generated content in the legal profession. His remarks came just a few days after the latest instance of AI-generated fake legal citations making their way into official court records in a case involving ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

"Always a bad idea," Roberts wrote in his year-end report, noting that "any use of AI requires caution and humility."

At the same time, the chief justice acknowledged that AI can make it much easier for people without much money to access the courts. "These tools have the welcome potential to smooth out any mismatch between available resources and urgent needs in our court system," Roberts wrote.

Notable, however, were Roberts's omissions from his year-end report concerning a Supreme Court plagued with questions about its ethics and the court's first adoption of a code of conduct.

The ethics questions stemmed from a series of reports from ProPublica scrutinizing gifts that Justice Clarence Thomas received and failed to disclose from Harlan Crow, a billionaire GOP donor.

The ethical dilemmas spread to other Justices. Samuel Alito was criticized for a luxury fishing trip he took with a billionaire working to block student debt relief. Sonia Sotomayor was accused of using her position to pressure institutions where she previously held speaking gigs into buying her books. Even Roberts came under scrutiny after Business Insider revealed that his wife made millions of dollars recruiting for law firms, one of which argued a case in front of the Supreme Court.

The code of conduct eventually adopted by the court this year has been criticized for being toothless, as it only suggests, rather than demands, that justices recuse themselves from cases involving friends or family members.

The country also is entering the beginning of an election year that seems likely to entangle the court in some way in the ongoing criminal cases against Trump and efforts to keep the Republican former president off the 2024 ballot.

Along with his eight colleagues, Roberts seldom discusses cases before the Supreme Court or that seem likely to get there. In past reports, he has advocated for enhanced security and salary increases for federal judges, praised judges and their aides for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and highlighted other aspects of technological changes in the courts.

Roberts once famously compared judges to umpires who call balls and strikes but don't make the rules. In his latest report, he turned to a different sport, tennis, to make the point that technology won't soon replace judges.

At many tennis tournaments, optical technology, rather than human line judges, now determine "whether 130 mile per hour serves are in or out. These decisions involve precision to the millimeter. And there is no discretion; the ball either did or did not hit the line. By contrast, legal determinations often involve gray areas that still require application of human judgment," Roberts wrote.

Looking ahead to the growing use of artificial intelligence in the courts, Roberts wrote: "I predict that human judges will be around for a while. But with equal confidence I predict that judicial work — particularly at the trial level — will be significantly affected by AI."

A representative for the Supreme Court did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider sent outside regular business hours.


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