Much ado has been made already about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s qualifications and experiences, but little attention has been paid to one of the more unique elements of her legal background: as Wired points out, Judge Sotomayor will become the first justice to have decided cyberlaw cases prior to joining the Court.

There’s no telling how much she knows about things like Facebook (I’d be willing to bet that she doesn’t have an account), but it’s great to see a generation of judges who actually might understand all these new-fangled technologies making it to the high court. If confirmed, she would join Chief Justice John Roberts (also 54) as the only justices under 55, a decade and a half under the Court’s average age. That generational gap could make all the difference.

Whereas most subject areas can, for the most part, be taught to a judge in a well-written brief, there’s some element of cyberlife that makes it an area that you either “get” or don’t. In some cases (1-800 Contacts is a personal choice), an understanding (or misunderstanding) of how technology works can make all the difference in the court’s decision. As the law increasingly tries to make sense of cyberspace, it’s essential to have judges who can make sense of the realities of the Internet in the face of a confusing and piecemeal statutory scheme. Since it is likely that the next few years will contain a number of precedent-setting cyberlaw opinions, that ability becomes all the more important.

Sotomayor’s views on the Internet haven’t been showcased in her cyberlaw rulings, as they have not had to be particularly theoretical, but her decision in Netscape hints at an exceptionalist position (although it’s possible that she “hates bloggers“). Additionally, her nomination out of a process that aimed to focus on judicial “empathy” could mean that she’ll be willing to consider the shortfalls in the current cyberlaw as she arrives at her opinions. All things told, Sotomayor’s nomination is a good first step in the eventual progression towards a tech-savvy judiciary.

Steven Reilly

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