The Senate Judiciary Committee approved bipartisan legislation Thursday designed to make U.S. court documents free to the general public (article available here).
The measure (S. 2614) that would require the federal judiciary to create a new PACER system that would be free for public use. The system 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.
Committee members approved by voice vote a manager’s amendment with several changes, including authorizing appropriations for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in addition to relying on fees from frequent users and federal agencies which use its case management system. The federal judiciary had opposed a similar bill passed by the House last Congress, which it said would have a “devastating budgetary and operational” impact on the judiciary.
In a statement, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said Thursday, “finding sufficient, stable funding for this project while providing potentially unlimited PACER access to the public would not be a simple exercise. The Judiciary is particularly concerned that relying on increased filing fees, as provided in the bill voted out of the committee, could seriously impede the right of access to federal courts.”
Supporters of the legislation say it will make the federal courts more accessible and open.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will now send the Open Courts Act of 2021 to the full Senate for its consideration after adopting the amendment that provides for additional funding and addressed the judiciary's concerns on technical issues.