“The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday, over the objections of the federal judiciary, to make access to federal court records free to the public.
By a voice vote, the House passed H.R. 8235, the Open Courts Act of 2020, which aims to modernize PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records)—a clunky and frustrating database of federal court filings maintained by the Administrative Office of the United States Court—and eliminate its paywall.
The database has long been the bane of lawyers, reporters, researchers, and citizen sleuths. PACER charges 10 cents a page for searches, court dockets, and documents, capped at $3.00 per document. Users who accrue less than $30 in fees every three months do not have to pay anything, which keeps casual users from being charged. But for others, costs can quickly pile up and there’s no alternative. Reason uses PACER on a daily basis to monitor civil rights lawsuits and report on the criminal justice system. As Seamus Hughes, a terrorism researcher who scours PACER for new prosecutions, lamented in Politico Magazine last year, “My work at The George Washington University’s Program on Extremism generates a quarterly PACER bill that could fund a coup in a small country.”
Even the Justice Department has to pay to use PACER. Between 2010 and 2017, the DOJ spent $124 million on federal court records….”