Section-by-Section Explanation of H.R. 8235 Open Courts Act

September 15, 2020
Blog Post

Section-by-Section Explanation of H.R. 8235 Open Courts Act

Sec. 1. Short Title. Section 1 sets forth the short title of the bill as the “Open Courts Act of 2020.”
Sec. 2. Consolidating and Updating Electronic Case Management Systems. Section 2(a) requires the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to, in coordination with the Administrator of General Services, consolidate all federal court records into one system within 2-3 years.
Sections 2(b)-(d) establishes requirements for the consolidated system, including searchability, accessibility, and data standards.
Section 2(e) establishes the dates when the new systems must go live: 2 years from enactment unless the Director of General Services certifies that an additional year is needed.
Section 2(f) provides funding for the modernized courts records system by authorizing the courts to increase fees for very high-volume users of PACER for 2-3 years until all PACER fees are eliminated, and by giving the courts discretion to impose reasonable filing fees under certain circumstances and only to the extent necessary to fund the new system. Such filing fees must be issued after notice and public comment and expire after 3 years unless they are renewed by the same process.
Sec. 3. Modernizing Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). Section 3(a) requires the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to, in coordination with the Administrator of General Services, make all court records on the system established by section 2 freely available to the public.
Section 3(b) grants authority to the Judicial Conference to designate, after notice and comment, certain categories of records that will be subject to up to a 5-day delay before they are made publicly accessible. Any such designation must be no broader than necessary and be based on a determination of a specific and substantial interest in restricting the public right of access to court records. Any designation expires after 3 years unless renewed via notice and comment.
Section 3(c) requires the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, in coordination with the Administrator of General Services, to ensure that the public can search for and access court records, similar to the requirements under Section 2 of this act.
Section 3(d) establishes the dates when all PACER fees must be eliminated and court records are made freely available to the public: 2 years from enactment unless the Director of General Services certifies that an additional year is needed.
Section 3(e) provides funding for making court records available free of charge by requiring the Judicial Conference to annually collect from the Department of Justice (DOJ) an amount equal to that which DOJ paid in PACER fees in 2018, adjusted for inflation. Any remaining funds shall be used to fund the system establish in section 2. The Judicial Conference may also impose filing fees on parties to cover the marginal cost of making court records free, but only to the extent necessary.
Sec. 4. Rule of Construction. Section 4 provides that the Act shall not be construed to affect the rules governing proceedings in forma pauperis proceedings and by prisoners.
Section 5. Digital Accessibility Standards. Section 5 requires that new system established by this act comply with accessibility standards under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

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