With Supreme Court Judge of the United States Anthony Kennedy announcing his retirement, there are a host of potential nominees. Included in this list is Justice Don Willet of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal. ABC News contends that some people are taking issue with his potential nomination because of his use of social media. It has been argued that social media use can reveal biases and detract from the perceived impartiality of the bench.

However, ABC News notes that “Legal scholars say there’s no legal provision prohibiting Supreme Court justices from sharing their opinions online or in speeches. The Supreme Court has maintained that the strict code of conduct that applies to lower court judges does not apply to them, but that doesn’t mean that the legal community looks favorably on justices making public comments.”

In “#engage: it’s time for judges to tweet, like & share“, American Judge Stephen Dillard explains why judges should engage the public over social media. “Judges owe it to our fellow citizens to educate them about… the judiciary in our tripartite system of government.” This includes educating people on the systems of appointing judges, how judges are trained, the structure and operation of the judicial system, and the rights people have in relation to the judicial system (e.g. the right to watch a trial). “I think judges have a duty to educate those we serve about the important role the judiciary plays in their daily lives. But in order to do that we need to rethink the way we engage the public.”

Justice Dillard points to the success that Justice Willet has had through engaging his constituents. He has over 100 thousand followers. His tweets are smart, humorous and informative.

Justice Dillard uses Twitter to explain to citizens what an appellate court does. For example:

  • what they do on a daily basis,
  • how many appeals they hear,
  • the types of cases they hear,
  • how cases are assigned,
  • how cases are circulated,
  • deadlines,
  • the court culture, and so on.

Justice Dillard also uses Twitter to mentor people through sharing articles and tips on legal writing and oral advocacy.

In my opinion, the fact that a judge has used social media should not disqualify him/her from an appointment to an appellate court. Engaging the public through a forum they commonly use is effective. The judiciary should not relegate itself to the ivory tower. A great example of a court’s use of social media is @BCProvCourt.

(This article was originally posted on slaw.ca. Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)