Open Court Advocates Tell U.S. Judiciary: Reform is ‘Imperative’

A group of open court advocates has appealed to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts to support bipartisan legislation to make federal court documents free and easily accessible to the public.

Currently, members of the public must pay ten cents a page, up to $3 a document, to view federal court records on-line, which deters people who cannot afford an attorney and have no choice but to represent themselves or abandon their rights.

The House Judiciary Committee last week in a bipartisan vote approved the Open Courts Act of 2020 to lift the paywall on the federal court database of case decisions and documents. The act, which includes a “pay-for” provision to support the service, would require the AO to modernize and make the database free to the public.

“Reform is often challenging, but it is imperative when the status quo limits access to justice. It is unjust to charge for court documents and place undue burdens on students, researchers, pro se litigants, and interested members of the public – not to mention the journalists who cover the courts.”

This was the message sent in a letter Tuesday to James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. It was signed by eight retired federal judges, Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack of the Michigan Supreme Court, Fix the Court (which released the letter) and other open government advocacy groups, several university law libraries and groups that represent the media.

If approved by Congress, the letter writers state, the “aging and difficult to navigate” federal court database would become “modern and user-friendly.”

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