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This is welcome news re the US Supreme Court. Fulfilling a promise outlined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in his 2014 year-end report on the federal judiciary, the Supreme Court is adopting electronic filing for all of its cases. The new electronic filing system will begin operation on November 13, 2017. Full and free Supreme Court dockets will be a boon to lawyers, researchers, students, and the public. Is this the beginning of the end for the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system (he says hopefully!)?
After lagging behind other courts for years, the Supreme Court is finally catching up on a key technological feature that will be a boon to researchers, lawyers and analysts of all kinds. It’s moving to adopt electronic filing.
The change will allow the public to access legal filings for all future cases — free of charge. Beginning Nov. 13, the court will require “parties who are represented by counsel” to upload digital copies of their paper submissions. Parties representing themselves will have their filings uploaded by the court’s staff.
All those submissions will then be entered into an online docket for each case, and they will be accessible from the court’s homepage.
This is an amazing offer from Brewster Kahle and the internet Archive. Kahle just wrote a letter to the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Committee on the Judiciary stating unequivocally that they will “archive and host — for free, forever, and without restriction on access to the public — all records contained in PACER.” The “Public Access to Court Electronic Records” or PACER system is the supposedly publicly accessible system of federal court records that charges exorbitant fees to download, thus making it for all intents and purposes blocking meaningful access to federal court records. But with this letter, the whole system could become actually accessible, for free and in perpetuity!
By this submission, tile Internet Archive would like to clearly state to the Judiciary Committee, as well as to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Judicial Conference of the United States, that we would be delighted to archive and host — for free, forever, and without restriction on access to the public — all records contained in PACER…
In order to recognize the vision of universal free access to public court records, the Federal Judiciary would essentially have to do nothing. We are experts at “crawling” online databases in an efficient and careful fashion that does not burden those systems. We are already able to comprehensively crawl PACER from a technical perspective, but the resulting fees would be astronomical. The Federal Judiciary has a Memorandum of Understanding with both the Executive Office for us Trustees and with the Government Printing Office that gives each entity no-fee access for the public benefit. The collection we would provide to the public would be far more comprehensive than the GPO’s current court opinion program- although I must laud that program for providing a digitally-authenticated collection of many opinions.
By making federal judicial dockets available in this manner, the Federal Judiciary would enable free and unlimited public access to all records that exist in PACER, finally living up to the name of the program. In today’s world, public access means access on the Internet. Public access also means that people can work with big data without having to pass a cash register for each document.
The OpenGov Foundation wrote just released their “Statement on Internet Archive Offer to Deliver Free and Perpetual Public Access to PACER” in which they said:
“The vital public information in PACER is the property of the American people. Public information, from laws to court records, should never be locked away behind paywalls, never be stashed behind arbitrary barriers and never be covered in artificial restrictions. Forcing Americans to pay hard-earned money to access public court records is no better than forcing them to pay a poll tax.
“The Internet Archive’s offer to archive and deliver unrestricted public access to PACER for free and forever is the best possible Valentine’s Day gift to the American people. The Internet Archive is proposing a cost-effective and innovative public-private partnership that will finally fix a clear injustice. There is no reason to do anything but accept this offer in a heartbeat.”
Lawsuit claiming public being milked for access to court records advances by David Kravets, arsTechnica (1/25/2017).
A lawsuit that claims the public is being overcharged by the US government’s website for accessing federal court records just took a major step forward. A federal judge overseeing the litigation against PACER, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, just certified the case as a class action—meaning anybody who has used the service between 2010-2016 might be entitled to refunds if the government loses or settles.
PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is a database of databases of judicial opinions, pleadings, motions and other papers from 94 district courts, 93 bankruptcy courts, and 13 circuit courts that compose the federal judiciary.
The RECAP project was initially a firefox/chrome extension which allowed users to automatically search for free copies during a search in the fee-based online PACER system and allowed users to build up a free alternative database at the Internet Archive.
The Free Law Project has announced that it has built a new archive of all the PACER documents captured by the RECAP project. The archive is available at https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/ and is fully searchable for the first time. It contains more than ten million PACER documents, including the extracted text from more than seven million pages of scanned documents
The Free Law Project also said that it will be launching a PACER/RECAP data service in the next few months that will help journalists and researchers acquire and understand PACER content. The Project will also be building a RECAP Clearinghouse that will provide some of the functionality of the firefox/chrome extensions, allowing researchers and organizations to use an API to get content from PACER.
The RECAP project is designed to help solve The PACER Problem by providing enhanced, free, meaningful public access to federal court records.
Read the complete announcement with many more details here:
- Free Law Project Re-Launches RECAP Archive, a New Search Tool for PACER Dockets and Documents by Michael Lissner, Free Law Project (22 November 2016).
“Creating an archive for all free PACER opinions and a clearinghouse for new content should quickly create a large and useful collection of PACER content. This will enable researchers, journalists, and organizations to focus their efforts where it matters — creating new research, identifying and telling important stories, and innovating the legal marketplace. We hope you will join us in this effort, and that if you find these services and tools valuable, that you will support our work with a donation.”
Hat tip to Gary Price at InfoDocket!
Also see: PACER and EDGAR.
Here’s some solid research by the Free Law Project about Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). Amazing how much revenue PACER makes each year. That’s a TON of pages downloaded by users of public domain legal information! And they’ve got some ideas for developing a solution to this problem.
In total, that’s $1.2B that PACER has brought in over 21 years, with an average revenue of $60.7M per year. The average for the last five years is more than twice that — $135.2M/year.1 These are remarkable numbers and they point to one of two conclusions. Either PACER is creating a surplus — which is illegal according to the E-Government Act — or PACER is costing $135M/year to run.
Whichever the case, it’s clear that something has gone terribly wrong. If the justice system is turning a profit selling public domain legal documents through its public access system, that’s wrong. If the judicial branch needs $60M/year to run a basic website, that’s gross waste, and that’s wrong too.
Something needs to be done to rein in PACER, and again we ask that public citizens, Congress, journalists, and the courts work to develop a solution.