Chief Justice John Roberts devoted his year-end report on the federal courts to a rumination about the perils and promise of artificial intelligence, skirting the ethics controversies that bedeviled the Supreme Court over the past year and the role the court is set to play in the 2024 presidential election. In the report issued Sunday, Roberts predicted that the judicial system “will be significantly affected by AI” as the technology is adopted by law firms, legal clients and judges themselves. The chief justice wrote that AI is a mixed bag for the legal profession and the courts, streamlining some tasks while creating dangers of fraud, discrimination and intrusions on privacy, Politico reports..“Legal research may soon be unimaginable without it,” wrote Roberts. “AI obviously has great potential to dramatically increase access to key information for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. But just as obviously it risks invading privacy interests and dehumanizing the law.”
Roberts alluded to some of the high-profile AI embarrassments in the legal realm over the past year, including instances where the technology prompted lawyers to cite cases that did not exist. While Roberts’ most famous declaration remains his comment at his 2005 confirmation hearing that a judge’s job is “to call balls and strikes,” he took a different tack in the new report, emphasizing that many decisions made by judges are susceptible to nuance that only humans are likely to recognize. “Legal determinations often involve gray areas that still require application of human judgment,” the chief justice wrote. “I predict that human judges will be around for a while.” Roberts did not mention issues critical to the looming presidential election. Those include whether former President Trump should be allowed to remain on the ballot despite his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, whether he will be forced to spend time facing criminal trials during the campaign season and whether judges have violated the First Amendment through gag orders aimed at reining in Trump’s most fiery rhetoric about his legal woes. Instead, Roberts touted technological innovations the courts adopted during the coronavirus pandemic, including holding hearings by videoconference. He did not note that federal courts have already retreated from some of those changes, including by rescinding the ability of the press and public to monitor trials and other court proceedings via the phone or internet.