If you were wondering why it still costs 10 cents per page to get something off of PACER when indexed databases everywhere else online are entirely free, you’ve got company in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The Federal Circuit issued an opinion this morning affirming a lower court ruling that the federal judiciary has siphoned money from the PACER revenue stream for unauthorized purchases.
In other words, that the federal judiciary imposed a financial burden on non-profit, low income, and pro se litigants and used it for a slew of projects unrelated to expanding public access to the courts.
We agree with plaintiffs and amici that the First Amendment stakes here are high…. If large swaths of the public cannot afford the fees required to access court records, it will diminish the public’s ability “to participate in and serve as a check upon the judicial process—an essential component in our structure of self-government.” … Such concerns bolster our rejection of the government’s more sweeping interpretation of § 1913 Note as permitting EPA fees high enough to cover all electronic access to court information.
The result isn’t particularly surprising when you remember that the panel asked the attorney defending PACER’s budget, “Do you have a lot of trouble answering questions generally in life or just when you come in front of the court?” Oof.
Not since F.W. Woolworth has an entity profited so handsomely off of a dime-based business model. PACER reportedly brings in $140 million annually, which it claims is necessary to cover its $100 million operating costs. Why a no frills, difficult to search, design nightmare of a document repository would require $100 million to operate is a mystery.
And the Federal Circuit agrees.
You can read the opinion on the next page. I grabbed it off the Federal Circuit homepage where it was prominently featured. I tried to get it off of PACER and it was on page 3 of the search results. That’s what $100 million will get you apparently.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.