On Tuesday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 17 media organizations submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in the case of National Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States of America.
The brief argues that the law requires the judicial system to limit the fees it charges people to access its Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system to the cost of disseminating the information requested. Currently, many members of the media face prohibitive costs when trying to obtain court records to inform the public about what is happening in the judicial system.
The class action lawsuit, brought by three nonprofit organizations, alleges that the judicial system’s current PACER fees violate the E-Government Act of 2002, which allows for charging “reasonable fees” for access to electronic court records “only to the extent necessary” to “reimburse expenses in providing these services.” In the past, Congress has found that the judicial system charges PACER fees higher than the cost of dissemination and has used funds generated from these fees to pay for expenses unrelated to processing court records requests.
According to the brief, “[A]ccess to court records makes reporting more accurate, fair, and transparent. Reporters with access to primary source materials are more likely to get the story right when reporting on legal news. And publication of court records alongside such stories enhances readers’ trust by allowing readers to read the documents themselves and hold reporters accountable for the facts underlying a story. These benefits of access to court records can accrue, however, only if news organizations can afford to access them.”
The brief also emphasizes the importance of the public being able to obtain court documents in order to exercise its First Amendment right to access court proceedings and hold the judicial system accountable
Friend-of-the-Court Brief Signatories
- The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- American Society of News Editors
- The Associated Press Media Editors
- Association of Alternative Newsmedia
- The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR)
- First Amendment Coalition
- First Look Media Works, Inc.
- The International Documentary Association (The Investigative Reporting Workshop)
- The Media Consortium
- MPA – The Association of Magazine Media
- The National Press Photographers Association
- Online News Association
- Radio Television Digital News Association
- Reporters Without Borders
- The Seattle Times Company
- Society of Professional Journalists
- The Tully Center for Free Speech
Read the Complete News Release
Direct to Full Text Brief
27 pages; PDF.