House lawmakers roll out bill to make court records free

Greg Nash
House lawmakers are planning to introduce a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would make court records free to the public.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) have teamed up to reintroduce the bill, dubbed the Electronic Court Records Reform Act.
The bill makes federal court records – now 10 cents per page – free of charge online via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, known as PACER.{mosads} 
In a statement, Collins called the current paywall unreasonable. 
“Courts represent a cornerstone of our democracy,” he said. “We expect them to deliver justice in public, open for any and all to inspect, and this goal can’t be achieved when case filings and other documents are shrouded behind a paywall.”
The proposal, which was introduced in September but failed to get a hearing, would also require audio and visual court records to be made available on PACER and requires improvements to be made, including adding search functions to the system.
Quigley said he’s made it his mission as co-founder and co-chair of the Transparency Caucus to provide the public with increased access to the inner workings of their government, which must also include the justice system.
“The American people deserve free access to federal court records, and courts deserve a modernized way of maintaining those documents,” he said in a statement. 
“The Electronic Court Records Reform Act (ECRRA) achieves both of those goals and is a prime example of a common-sense initiative to increase transparency and accountability.”

The proposal comes as multiple groups fight the legality of user fees charged by the federal judiciary for access to records through PACER. That challenge, part of a class-action lawsuit, is now in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center and Alliance for Justice say the district court correctly held that PACER fees have been unlawfully set above the amount authorized by Congress and that the government is liable for the excess. But the groups say the lower court incorrectly read the E-Government Act of 2002 to authorize some fees that go beyond what is necessary to recover the costs of PACER.
Tags Doug Collins Mike Quigley
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