The US Might Actually Join the 21st Century If This Bill Passes

The US Might Actually Join the 21st Century If This Bill Passes

After years of deliberation, it seems like the United States Bill might finally be ready to join the 21st century! On Wednesday, the US House Judiciary Committee passed the bipartisan, pro-PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic

Records) a bill that would allow Americans access to US federal court records at no cost Bill. For those who aren’t familiar with PACER, it stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records and allows citizens with an internet connection or smartphone/tablet (iOS or Android only) to check out all sorts of public records and dockets from the comfort of their own homes.

A historical overview

In 1998, a piece of legislation known as the E-Government Act of 2002 was Bill passed. It included provisions for public access to federal court documents. The idea was to make it easier for citizens to access records on legal cases and for journalists and watchdog groups to stay informed about government decisions. What ended up happening is that governments started charging $0.10 per page–a lot of money if you need more than a couple of pages at a time–to read through court documents.

Earlier in 2016, a bipartisan group of representatives and senators introduced a new bill–the Federal Public Access to Court Electronic Records or simply Free PACER act–that could change how Americans access court documents.

The Free PACER act would allow users to view these Bill records free of charge for up to ten pages per month. After that, they would have to pay $0.10 per page if they wanted additional information. A House committee passed it on May 10th and it is now headed for full Congressional approval.

With its passage through committee, we might see something long overdue: finally joining the rest of our technologically-advanced global neighbors in viewing all court documents online for free without limits.

What is PACER?

PACER is an online library of public domain federal and state court case records dating back to 1979. Before 2011, PACER had been free, but that year its creator, West Publishing Company, made several price changes to charge for access.

Likely, they were largely responding to Google Law, which allowed some amount of free access in 2006. It’s even less surprising when you consider

that West Publishing has since been acquired by Reed Elsevier Group – who also owns LexisNexis, the dominant player in legal information databases- for $547 million in 2003. That purchase was widely seen as bad news for lawyers and researchers who don’t subscribe to LexisNexis because it meant their paywall suddenly included PACER content.

Why you should care

Our elected officials are forgoing PACER services and putting their constituents at a disadvantage by blocking an extension of the program. We pay their salaries and cover their expenses.

They should be representing us, said Phil Leshy, a former General Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee. Unfortunately, they’re not doing it and they need to get on board.

The Judiciary Committee did just that this week by voting 24-1 in favor of extending free access to federal court records that have been inaccessible to most Americans for decades. The Senate is expected to vote on the proposal soon and once passed, President Obama has vowed to sign it into law before leaving office in January.

It’s easy to get caught up in what’s in it for us. Free access to court records means we won’t have to pay $2 per page or even more if we need hard copies of documents. In a digital age,

that translates into millions of dollars saved every year by citizens trying to solve legal issues they can’t afford an attorney to help with. The only group that stands to lose is one you probably don’t care about—PACER itself and its chosen vendors who take home 99% of all revenue generated by their service fees.

How we can make it happen

Getting this bill passed through Congress and in front of the President Bill will be a challenge. But it’s not impossible. It all starts with each of us.

Let’s start by making PACER free for everyone because Bill in a democracy everyone deserves equal access to information that impacts their lives.

After that, let’s do what we can to support and push legislators towards better policies like net neutrality, affordable healthcare, and ending partisan gerrymandering – then vote them out if they don’t deliver on these promises.

Finally, let’s vote for people who understand the technology and can work together to create positive change for our world in 2020 so we don’t need to live without things like broadband internet or universal health care anymore!

Keep browsing Law Scribd for more updates.

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