Turning PACER Around

Transparency is a fundamental principle of our legal system. Since the 1980s, the cutting edge of judicial transparency has been PACER, an electronic system that allows attorneys and the general public to access millions of federal court records. PACER was a big step forward when it was originally created, but lately it has begun to show its age. At a time when the other two branches of government are becoming ever more subject to online scrutiny, the judicial branch still requires citizens to provide a credit card and pay eight cents a page for its documents. For reasons we detail on our “Why It Matters” page, we think this needs to change, and the sooner the better.

Today we’re excited to release the public beta of RECAP. RECAP is an extension to the popular Firefox web browser that gives PACER users a hassle-free way to contribute to a free, open repository of federal court records. When a RECAP user purchases a document from PACER, the RECAP extension helps her automatically send a copy of that document to the RECAP archive. And RECAP saves its users money by notifying them when documents they’re searching for are already available for …

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RECAP Project — Why It Matters

The right of access to criminal trials in particular is properly afforded protection by the First Amendment both because such trials have historically been open to the press and public and because such right of access plays a particularly significant role in the functioning of the judicial process and the government as a whole.

Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Ct., 457 U.S. 596

We are a nation of laws. Our law is created not only via legislation, but also through the adjudicative process of the courts. Whereas we generally have open and free access to the statutes that bind us, case law has had a more mixed history. Earlier experiments in secret proceedings did not go well. Western law subsequently developed strong precedents for access to judicial proceedings — citing the importance of transparency in promoting court legitimacy, accountability, fairness, and democratic due process. When the law is accessible, “ignorance of the law is no excuse”

Legal accessibility has traditionally meant that citizens may review the law via the contemporary technology, and redistribute it at will. In ancient courts, this implied open public access to the proceeding itself. Indeed, the principle was literally built into the architecture of the courthouses …

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