Bill to Make PACER Free Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to make U.S. court documents free to the general public.  The bipartisan legislation would require the federal judiciary to create a new PACER system that would be free for public use.  PACER, which stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, is run by the Judicial Conference of the United States. Users currently pay $0.10 per page with a cap of $3 per document, excluding transcripts.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send the Open Courts Act of 2021 to the full Senate for its consideration after adopting an amendment that provided for additional funding and addressed the judiciary’s concerns on technical issues.

Here’s more from Bloomberg Law:

Committee members approved by voice vote a manager’s amendment with several changes, including authorizing appropriations for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in addition to relying on fees from frequent users and federal agencies which use its case management system. The federal judiciary had opposed a similar bill passed by the House last Congress, which it said would have a “devastating budgetary and operational” impact on the judiciary.

In a statement, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said Thursday, “finding sufficient, stable funding for this project while providing potentially unlimited PACER access to the public would not be a simple exercise. The Judiciary is particularly concerned that relying on increased filing fees, as provided in the bill voted out of the committee, could seriously impede the right of access to federal courts.”

Supporters of the legislation say it will make the federal courts more accessible and open.

“There’s no reason the American public should pay for public documents. The current cost to view or download a filing, ten cents per page, might not seem like a lot, but it quickly adds up and has been a barrier to access to justice for too long,” Gabe Roth, executive director of judicial watchdog Fix the Court who supports the bill,said in a statement. “The Open Courts Act fixes that, makes PACER free and modernizes the entire case management and filing system in a way that can make the judiciary’s IT a crown jewel and not an embarrassment.”

Hat tip to BeSpacific