Happy 25th Birthday PACER! You’re still too expensive!

December 9th, 2013

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts wishes PACER a twenty-fifth birthday. Now, PACER is old enough to run for Congress. Or something like that.

In September 1988, the Judicial Conference of the United States approved a new way of opening information to the public, through a service known as PACER—Public Access to Court Electronic Records.

PACER, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, and Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF), an electronic case management system that began in the late 1990s, have together fundamentally changed how federal courts, and the lawyers, judges and staff who work in them, perform their jobs.

Here’s how PACER 1.0 worked:

Today, PACER and CM/ECF provide online access to hundreds of millions of documents. Well over a million users have accessed the two systems. But at first, PACER was available at only a few pilot courts, and it provided only basic information.

Users with dial-in telephone modems—rubber-cup-shaped devices in which telephone receivers were placed—could receive docket sheet information, and see thumbnail case summaries on their computer screens. Actual case documents remained unavailable except at the courthouse.

No mention about the never-ending increase in costs and fees for this service that should be free. And I doubt that trend will be reversed anytime soon.