Rep. Johnson Introduces, Marks up Bipartisan Bill Modernizing Federal Courts to Make Them More Accessible, Transparent

September 15, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, today announced he introduced The Open Courts Act of 2020, H.R. 8235, which would modernize the federal judiciary’s court records system (called CM/ECF) and make court records freely available to the public (PACER). The new system will provide a centralized, easily searchable site to file and read court records and monitor docket activity. The Act includes a process to cover the costs of these long-overdue reforms without requiring new appropriations. Currently, the federal judiciary charges 10 cents per page to pull up court files from its online record repository.

Rep. Doug Collins (GA-09) co-introduced the bill, which was marked up and passed out of Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. It now goes to the full House for a vote. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) leads the Senate companion effort.

“Modernizing and streamlining the federal courts system to eliminate PACER fees is long overdue,” said Congressman Johnson. “The Open Courts Act also levels the playing field by making court records as widely available as possible. How much money you have should not dictate access to justice. It also frees the Fourth Estate from over-burdensome and excessive fees when trying to simply do their jobs -- inform the public.”

The Open Courts Act would:

  • Require the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to consolidate all federal court records into one system.
  • Make court records freely available to the public; eliminate the pay wall currently established by PACER.
  • Ensure that the public can easily search for and access court records.
  • Provide funding for making PACER free of charge in part by allowing the Judicial Conference to collect from the Department of Justice (DOJ) every year going forward an amount equal to that which DOJ paid in PACER fees in 2018, adjusted for inflation.   

A section-by-section analysis of the bill can be found HERE.

Rep. Johnson’s full statement is HERE.

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