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Despair at the Supreme Court

By now, most readers of this web-log will have seen Joshua Rozenberg’s scoop on the so-called ‘font wars’ (although they really mean ‘typeface wars’) at the Supreme Court, which unaccountably shifted from Morison and Lardent’s Times New Roman to Microsoft Clippy’s Calibri.  I have heretofore avoided writing on this topic largely because it makes me quite upset.

The highest court in the land, without any public consultation, without any transparency, without any reference to the literature on this or to typographic expertise, has magically decided that there is an ‘accessibility’ issue with a well-known serifed face (admittedly, Times is quite a pastiche, but a nice pastiche nonetheless).

For every printer in Antiqua since Gutenberg, serifs have been understood as an aid to the eye in distinction.  I have accessibility needs, and I find, as Tschichold said, that serifs guide my eye, and I have much less difficulty reading serifed text on a screen.  It is true that there are people who have specific needs, from screen readers to typefaces for people with dyslexia, but those people already will make use of the ability to easily change the typeface in the html version of judgments on bailii.  The debate is rather over the typeface in the mass version in the pdf (and pdf's are inherently less accessible than the html versions), and the mass version should be be maximally accessible.  If the Supreme Court were to switch to Open Dyslexic, that would be bad for accessibility because for non-dyslexics (such as your correspondent), that typeface is hard to read.

It does not speak well to the Supreme Court’s processes that they make such poor impulse decisions in the shadows; one wonders if it came from an intern or outside consultant rather than fastidious court staff.

The Supreme Court should try, please try, to consider reading a book on legibility. Choose a nice serif font with a high x-height, trusting that today, when screens are astonishingly good (and many of us, myself included, still use print) serif will maximise accessibility to the public. The US Supreme Court’s use of Century is a nice example, although I would instead suggest, say, a version of Palatino (perhaps the official version used in UK statutes, which I have freely made available for all to use)?. The model should be the Law Reports, which present the law in a highly clear and digestible manner and have a century long record of doing so. This is not difficult, but the Supreme Court seems desperate to make it so.