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U.S. Court Records Would Be Free Under House Judiciary Bill

Sept. 15, 2020, 11:57 PM

The public would gain free access to the electronic database of federal court records known as PACER under bipartisan legislation approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

The Open Courts Act (H.R. 8235) is sponsored by Georgia Reps. Hank Johnson (D) and Doug Collins (R).

“Convenient access to public records and public courthouses shouldn’t be a privilege just for the wealthy few and their silk stocking, tassel shoe wearing corporate lawyers,” Johnson said at the committee markup.

The PACER system’s fees have come under criticism for limiting public access. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled the cost to use the system was too high in a decision curbing the use of the fees as a revenue stream to help fund other court system programs.

Each search and each page of a document cost 10 cents, up to a maximum of $3 per document. In September 2019, the judiciary doubled the user fee waiver, increasing the quarterly waiver of fees from $15 to $30, which allowed more free access.

In its February budget request to Congress, the judiciary said it anticipated PACER revenue would be about $142 million in fiscal 2020 and 2021.

While there isn’t a companion bill in the Senate, lawmakers introduced a similar bipartisan bill last year. The Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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