I understand that state and local governments often face budgetary constraints that prevent them from adopting the latest technology. Nonetheless, I was astonished to see that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court insists on giving its published opinions a strong retro flavor:
The court’s opinions all come down in Courier, the old-fashioned typeface designed to mimic electric typewriters. Courts are known for being tradition-bound, but today the SJC is one of only five state high courts that still issue opinions in Courier. And Massachusetts is one of only three states—along with Alabama and New Jersey—that essentially force appeals court attorneys to file their briefs in the font.
As a result, Massachusetts court proceedings have an almost uniquely retro look. The US Supreme Court publishes its opinions in neat, literary Century type. The State Department defected from Courier a decade ago in favor of Times New Roman. Even middle-school students can print their papers in high-toned Bodoni or Garamond.
The advantage to Courier is that, as a monospaced font (each letter has the same width and spacing), it frustrates efforts by attorneys to stretch page maximums by playing with fonts. Indeed, Massachusetts has explicitly defended its policy
as a way to enforce the state’s 50-page limit for appellate briefs. (The state’s trial courts have much more lenient rules for brief submission.)
Now I can understand why the state might want to prevent attorneys from gaming the system. If I don’t include font and spacing requirements in the instructions for my writing assignments, I can guarantee that a critical mass of students will seize the tacit invitation to use fonts creatively. (Unlike the Massachusetts attorneys, though, they will be stretching prose to fill a page minimum.) But why cling to a policy made obsolete by technological advances, including the not-all-that-advanced advance of word processors with a word count option?
I suppose that when most appellate briefs filed in your state are still the dead-tree variety
, word processing might seem by itself to be a significant advance. But presumably, the documents printed in Courier are not being generated on Smith-Corona manual typewriters. Until the state switches to all-electronic filing, why not continue to accept paper and require filers to include a flash drive, from which court personnel could open the relevant file and do a word count? Ultimately, without pressure from within the system (and there seems to be very little
), there will probably be little impetus to change. Moral: never underestimate the power of inertia.