Colorado Supreme Court Rules Computers Cannot Be Used to Speed-Read Legislation

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Colorado Supreme Court Ends Epic Political Battle, Calls Democrats’ Use of Computers to Speed-Read Bills a ‘Cacophony’ That Doesn’t Pass Legal Muster

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against State Senate Democrats on Monday in a case over whether computers could be legally used to speed-read bills on the Senate floor.

The case came about as a direct result of political gamesmanship between legislative Republicans and Democrats. You see, the Colorado state constitution provides that all bills be read aloud in their entirety. Knowing this, Republicans rewrote 2,000 pages of oil and gas regulations, then asked that they all be read at length.

Republicans insisted the reading requirement had been made in good faith, for the purpose of inspiring a “conversation between both parties.”

Dems insisted the regs weren’t controversial, and that the read-aloud was requested simply to throw a wrench into the gears of government. “Rather than have an honest debate on the issues,” they tweeted about their GOP colleagues, “they’re channeling their inner Ted Cruz to obstruct and are preventing good policies from being discussed on the Senate floor.”

The Republicans parried with some mocking.

Dems responded again, saying they “wouldn’t be surprised if you folks busted out ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ to go along with your temper tantrums.”

Democrats went beyond a Twitter battle, though. In an epic “be careful what you wish for” move, they retaliated by having multiple computers read the regulations aloud at the lightening speed of 650 words per minute.

Republicans responded to the auditory mess with a little Dr. Suess of their own.

Republicans sued and won. The court issued an injunction preventing Democrats from using the computers to speed-read, and issued an order that the Senate Secretary “employ a methodology that is designed to read legislation in an intelligible and comprehensive manner, and at an understandable speed.”

Dems appealed, and now, the Colorado Supreme Court ended the speed-reading for good. As the Colorado Supreme Court put it, “There are unquestionably different ways the legislature may comply with the reading requirement. But the cacophony generated by the computers here isn’t one of them.”

Justice Carlos Samour delivered the majority opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice Richard L. Gabriel and Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter.

“We therefore agree with the district court’s determination that the unintelligible sounds produced by the computers did not fulfill the reading requirement,” wrote Samour. The court affirmed the lower decision only in part, however, because it concluded that “it was not within the district court’s domain to dictate the form or manner by which the legislature may comply with the reading requirement.” In other words, the court was correct in ruling that the computers had been a bad choice, but it shouldn’t have directed the Senate Secretary to do anything specific.

[Screengrab via Colorado Senate/YouTube]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos