Login | February 03, 2023

Free PACER will save the government money

Technology for Lawyers

Published: January 20, 2023

As reported here awhile ago, there is a bill in Congress that will make PACER free. This is a result of a scandal (of sorts) in the federal judiciary in which some judges were using the millions of dollars in PACER income as a slush fund for purchases.
In response to congressional attempts to make PACER free, the judiciary struck back. In 2019, Judge Audrey Flessig on the US District court for the Eastern District of Missouri testified to the House Judiciary Committee that PACER cost the judiciary $100 million per year to operate. In December 2020, just as the government was in the process of flipping over, the Administrative Office of the US Courts told congress that making PACER free would cost two billion dollars. Billion with a “B.”
In August 2022, the head of the Administrative Office said that it would cost the courts a billion bucks and Congress another $500 million.
Well, as it turns out, none of those figures were accurate. In fact, they don’t seem to be grounded in anything real.
Ya see, as a result of the pending Open Courts Act, the Congressional Budge Office actually did an actual study on the actual numbers. You know—facts.
And that analysis of the effects of offering PACER for free determined that the government would save $14 million over the next ten years.
According to Reuters, enacting the Open Courts Act would generate $175 million in net revenues over a decade, offsetting the $161 million in mandatory spending the bill would prompt.
The income would be generated by charging fees to the people who use it the most—for-profit heavy users of the service. Like large law firms that do a lot of federal practice.
In a corollary move, federal courts will raise the costs of court transcripts by 20 percent over the next two years. The official statement for this adjustment is that the 670 official federal court reporters have not had a raise since 2007, and that this is in keeping with inflation. So by 2025, you’ll be paying more for transcripts. As the child of an official court reporter, I’m all in on this one. Go here for the rates.
Thanks to Above the Law (subscribe to this now) and Reuters for their reporting on these topics.