The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is urging U.S. lawmakers to pass a bill that would improve transparency in the federal court system for both the press and the public.
In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Dec. 1, the Reporters Committee expressed support for the Open Courts Act of 2020 and urged congressional leaders to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
The legislation would eliminate burdensome fees that discourage or block access to federal court records. The current system, known as the PACER paywall, has long been a source of frustration for journalists, news organizations and members of the public. As the Reporters Committee’s letter notes, the per-page fees represent a significant barrier to accessing public court documents — records the press and public have a right to access under the First Amendment and common law.
“When reporters cannot access court records because of excessive fees, the public loses,” the letter states. “By removing the PACER paywall, the Open Courts Act of 2020 will increase access to records of the federal judiciary, promote accuracy in news reporting, and further advance the public’s knowledge about the federal judicial system.”