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Congress considering eliminating PACER fees

RALEIGH, N.C. — U.S. House members reintroduced a bill Feb. 13, which, if passed, would eliminate fees currently required to view federal court documents online.

The Electronic Court Records Reform Act is an effort to make it easier for members of the public to access federal court documents. The bill would also require the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to consolidate court records into a single electronic case management system, similar to the existing PACER, to make it more convenient to find documents.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, was one of several legislators who introduced the bill after filing a previous version in September 2018.

“Americans deserve a justice system that is transparent and accessible,” Collins said in a statement in September. “I introduced the Electronic Court Records Reform Act to modernize the judicial records systems and remove fee-for-access barriers that technology has rendered unnecessary.”

Collins’ bill would also require documents be posted to PACER within five days of being filed, in a format that’s easily searched and linked to from external websites.

The bill was assigned Feb. 13 to the House Committee on the Judiciary, where it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. The previous version of the bill died when it failed to get a hearing last session.

Sixteen organizations, including the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Data Coalition and the Project on Government Oversight, wrote and signed a letter supporting the bill.

Femi Cadmus, president of the AALL, said in a statement that, if passed, the bill would improve access to information essential to justice.

“Access to the law, and information about the law, is the cornerstone of any democracy,” Cadmus said in the statement. “Eliminating PACER fees will improve transparency of the courts and allow law libraries to preserve and provide access to court records. We urge Congress to enact this legislation.”

PACER has been in use since 1988, and been online since 2001. In 2015, the federal courts made $150 million in PACER fees, according to an American Bar Association article.

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