As Office of US Courts withdraws records for five top benches, can we make them open?

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud writes, "The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has announced that they are removing the archives for 5 important courts from their infamous PACER system. PACER is the ten-cent-per-page access to U.S. District and Appeals courts dockets and opinions."

Public.Resource.Org, in cooperation with our friends at the Free Law Project and the Internet Archive have sent in formal proposals to 5 Chief Judges asking for an Administrative Order to access this data. We are represented in this request by two very senior litigators, Professor Mark A.Lemley and Thomas R. Burke.

Our proposal builds on top of the 2008 work we did with Aaron Swartz to perform a comprehensive audit of District Court and Court of Appeals dockets for privacy violations. Our work led to changes in the rules of procedure and a thank you from the Judicial Conference of the United States. The proposal says that if they are not going to provide this data on PACER, if they give it to us we will audit (and clean up) the data for privacy violations, report back to the courts, and make the historical corpus available on RECAP. RECAP has over 1 million PACER cases, but that's not enough.

PACER is very personal to me. Our judiciary is based on the idea that we conduct justice public, not in star chambers and smoke-filled back rooms. Our system of justice is based on access to the workings of our courts, and when you hide those workings behind a pay wall, you have imposed a poll tax on access to justice. Aaron and many others believed very deeply in this principle and we will continue to fight for access to justice, equal protection, and due process. These are not radical ideas and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should join us in our commitment.


(Thanks, Carl! (Image: Really old law books, Umjanedoan, CC-BY)