from the nice! dept
H.R. 6714, the Electronic Court Records Reform Act, would guarantee free public access to federal court records through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, which currently charges the public a fee to access documents. The bill would also require updates to the PACER system, including adding a function to enable all users to search its catalog of court documents easily. Currently, litigants are handicapped because they cannot conduct research through the system.
The bill would further support legal professionals and the general public by consolidating the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. The CM/ECF system was designed to increase efficiency for all stakeholders within the judicial system, but it is compartmentalized among different courts. This makes locating records and filing documents difficult and inefficient. The Electronic Court Records Reform Act would unify these disconnected systems under the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in order to ensure uniform access to all federal litigants.
This would be… amazing. We’ve spent years highlighting the massive problems with PACER, the federal court system that charges insane amounts for basically everything you do, just to access public records, and which functions very much like it was designed around 1995. There are a few court cases arguing that PACER fees are illegal and a recent ruling in one of those cases agreed. As we noted at the time, that was hardly the final word on the matter. A bill like the ones Collins introduced would be an amazing leap forward in giving public access to court documents.
Unfortunately, it’s unclear if the bill has any support beyond Collins, but this is the kind of thing you would hope that Congress could get behind.