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Free Search of US Court Records Endorsed by Judiciary (Correct)

May 31, 2022, 5:02 PMUpdated: June 1, 2022, 1:05 PM

The judiciary’s policymaking body has endorsed a proposal to make federal court records searches via the PACER electronic database free to non-commercial users.

The Judicial Conference approved the recommendation at a March 15 meeting, according to notes of the closed-door session released May 27. It supports making all searches free for non-commercial users “of any future new modernized case management, electronic filing, and public access systems implemented by the judiciary.”

The recommendation comes as Congress considers legislation that would require the courts to make PACER access free to the general public online.
The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the Open Courts Act (S. 2614, H.R. 5844). The House has yet to take action on the bill this Congress, but the chamber easily passed the legislation in 2020.

PACER currently requires fees of 10 cents per search, 10 cents per page, and a cap of $3 on documents. The first $30 of usage is waived.

In a January letter, the Administrative Office of the US Courts raised concerns about the legislation, which it said “fails to provide for an adequate, predictable, and stable, replacement funding source.”

According to the March meeting notes, a Judicial Conference committee received feedback from an internal working group that making searches free “would require extensive development work to the current PACER system” and impact “fee revenue, program requirements, and system performance.”

(Clarifies throughout that judicial proposal covers PACER searches. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Seth Stern in Washington at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com