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To: Congress

Pass the Open Courts Act!

Pass the Open Courts Act!

We urge you to pass the Open Courts Act, bipartisan legislation to provide free and open access to federal court records. These are public records that show the federal courts in action, providing crucial insights into how courts decide cases that affect all of us!

Why is this important?

Over a decade ago, Demand Progress’ co-founder Aaron Swartz started working to make federal court documents available to the public at no cost.

The public entrusts federal courts with our rights and disputes; in turn, the public has a right to inspect court records and ensure federal courts administer justice fairly. But the current filing system stashes these essential documents behind a paywall, costing the public more than a hundred million dollars each year.[1]

In 2008, Aaron paid a small fortune to bring several million federal court documents out from behind the paywall, exposing misdeeds within the federal judiciary in the process. For sharing information and revealing wrongdoing, Aaron was pursued by the FBI.[2]

It’s time for court documents to be made public. Sign the petition if you agree.

Thanks to Aaron’s and others’ activism, we’ve come a long way from the days when open sourcing federal court documents was regarded by the federal government as radical — even potentially criminal.

When the Senate returns from holiday break, legislation to make federal court records available at no cost to the public will be brought before the full Senate for a floor vote. This movement is gaining traction. We need to make sure the legislation passes.

Sign the petition: Tell Congress we demand the passage of the Open Courts Act!

Information freedom activists and civil rights groups have been calling for transparency around court records for over a decade. But the federal court administrators still refuses to make these records publicly accessible, even after a district court ruled last year that the courts are dramatically overcharging the public for access the paywall as it currently exists is illegal.[3]

Court administrators, who have diverted the revenues for unauthorized purposes, fear giving up this revenue stream. Some federal judges do not want to empower systematic studies of how justice is administered, and have fought the public access movement tooth and nail.[4]

The courts have built a rickety, poor-designed, costly alternative to the promise of access for all that (barely) serves their narrow needs, not that of the public.

Thankfully, many federal court records have entered the public record another way: through grassroots information-sharing. In the process of empowering the public to access its own laws, activists have also exposed rampant privacy violations within the federal judiciary — demonstrating once again that public oversight is essential to protecting democracy.[2]

It’s time for Congress to require the courts provide free and open access to federal court records.

Sign the petition: Tell Congress to pass the Open the Courts Act to grant the American people access to their own records!

Sources:

1. Fix the Court, “How Could We Pay for Free PACER? Let's Look at the Options,” August 29, 2019.
2. CNN, “How Aaron Swartz helped build the Internet,” January 15, 2013.
3. ABA Journal, “Federal judiciary wrongly used PACER fees for unrelated projects, Federal Circuit rules,” August 6, 2020.
4. GovExec, “The Paywall That Continues to Stand in the Way of Government Transparency,” November 30, 2021.

Updates

2022-06-01 18:14:01 -0400

50 signatures reached

2022-01-18 14:26:49 -0500

25 signatures reached

2021-12-26 23:50:10 -0500

10 signatures reached