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U.S. Supreme Court to begin electronic filing in November

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court will begin using an electronic filing system for documents starting in November, a move other federal courts began decades ago.

The court said in a statement Thursday that the new system will begin operation on Nov. 13. Initially, attorneys will have to submit documents both electronically and on paper, the court said. Litigants who aren’t represented by attorneys, mainly prisoners filing on their own behalf, won’t submit through the electronic system, but their paper filings will be scanned and made available by the court. Once the system is in place, virtually all new filings will be available for free to the public, the court said.

The system has been in the works for several years. Chief Justice John Roberts said in a 2014 end of year report that the court was developing the system, saying it “may be operational as soon as 2016.” In the same report, he acknowledged that courts are often slow to adopt new technology.

“While courts routinely consider evidence and issue decisions concerning the latest technological advances, they have proceeded cautiously when it comes to adopting new technologies in certain aspects of their own operations,” he wrote.

He noted that the Supreme Court, in 1935, had belatedly embraced pneumatic tubes as a means of delivering copies of opinions to reporters and that the technology was overdue to be scrapped when the court stopped using it 1971.

Lower federal courts have been quicker to embrace electronic filing. Testing of an electronic filing system began in the late 1990s, with electronic filing available in nearly all federal courts by 2007, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Documents are available to the public through the PACER website , short for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. Accessing documents costs 10 cents per page, though that’s capped at $3 a document and there’s no cost for looking at opinions or viewing documents at public access terminals at courthouses. Roberts said in 2014 that attorneys were filing 2.5 million documents a month electronically and that there were more than a billion viewable documents.

The availability of electronic filing at the Supreme Court follows the debut of its redesigned website in late July. Improvements to the site better support electronic filing, the court said, ahead of the website’s unveiling. In November, a link on the website’s home page will allow the public to access case documents. Attorneys will have to register to file documents.