Administrative Office of U.S. Courts Wants Your Feedback on PACER

November 13, 2009

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) announced on November 2 that it is looking for feedback on PACER through an online survey to assess user satisfaction with current services and generate suggestions for future improvements to the system.

The survey is part of the AO’s year-long, comprehensive assessment of PACER. It is very important that the AO hear from law librarians and we encourage you to share your opinions and ideas. According to the announcement, the survey will be open for approximately 30 days.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Sen. Lieberman Requests Answers from the Judicial Conference on Compliance with Court Provisions of the E-Government Act of 2002

March 2, 2009

On January 27, 2009, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, Chair of the Judicial Conference of the United States Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure. The letter raises important questions about how the Federal courts have complied with the transparency and privacy requirements of the E-Government Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-347).

Before beginning to even draft his 2002 bill, Sen. Lieberman and his Committee held a yearlong online survey asking the American people what they wanted to see in e-government. Improved access to information from the courts, including no-fee access to the PACER system, was a frequent response.

I was privileged to work with Sen. Lieberman’s staff at the time and AALL was a strong supporter of the 2002 Act. We were especially pleased with the following important provision on public access to PACER.

Section 205(e) of the Act changed a provision of the Judicial Appropriation Act of 2002 (28 U.S.C. 1913 note) so that courts “may, to the extent necessary” instead of “shall” charge fees “for access to information available through automatic data processing equipment.”

This important change made it possible for the Government Printing Office and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to initiate a pilot project (now on temporary hold) allowing no-fee public access to PACER at 17 federal depository libraries. AALL’s Executive Board requested that the two organizations work together by endorsing the 2006 “AALL Resolution on No-Fee FDLP Access to PACER” and we applauded the beta-test.

Regarding PACER fees, Chairman Lieberman notes in his recent letter that,

“Seven years after the passage of the E-Government Act, it appears that little has been done to make these records freely available – with PACER charging a higher rate than 2002. Furthermore, the funds generated by these fees are still well higher than the cost of dissemination, as the Judiciary Information Technology Fund had a surplus of approximately $150 million in FY2006. Please explain whether the Judicial Conference is complying with Section 205(e) of the E-Government Act, how PACER fees are determined, and whether the Judicial Conference is only charging “to the extent necessary” for records using the PACER system.”

Privacy issues are also of concern to Chairman Lieberman, particularly regarding identity theft and the lack of redaction of personal data in some court records. His letter requests that the Court review its procedures to protect personal information in publicly available court records, as required by another provision of the 2002 Act. We are very pleased that Chairman Lieberman has requested a report to the Committee on both important issues.

AALL strongly supports no-fee public access to PACER as one of our top policy goals for the coming year. For more information on our position, please see page 3 of our “Statement to The Obama-Biden Transition Team: Public Policy Positions of The American Association of Law Libraries.”

The Government Relations Office has already begun to secure allies to assist our efforts toward making PACER available to the public at no cost. We are very grateful to Chairman Lieberman for his letter and request for information. We look forward to working with the Chairman and his staff on the E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2009.

We encourage our Blawg readers to forward this posting to other interested stakeholders.

[Posted by Mary Alice Baish]

Suit Seeks to Preserve Cheney Records

September 12, 2008

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and historians Stanley Kutler and Martin Sherwin filed a complaint on September 8 against Vice President Cheney, the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the Archivist of the Unites States and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), asking a federal judge to declare that Vice President Cheney’s records are covered by the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and that the records must be preserved for the American public.

In 2001, President Bush issued Executive Order 13233, which gave current and former presidents and vice presidents broad authority to withhold presidential records. The executive order also declared that the PRA applied only to the “executive records” of the vice president. Since this executive order, Vice President Cheney has repeatedly declared that he and the OVP are not part of the executive branch. Advocates fear that Vice President Cheney and the OVP may not turn over their records to NARA at the end of this administration, instead disposing of the records under the presumption that the Vice President and OVP are not covered by the PRA.

According to the Washington Post, Cheney spokesman Jamie Hennigan said, “The Office of the Vice President currently follows the Presidential Records Act and will continue to follow the requirements of the law, which includes turning over vice presidential records to the National Archives at the end of the term.” Recent events, however, have advocates rightly concerned. For example, David Addington, now chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, testified on June 26, 2008 before the House Judiciary Committee that the vice president “belongs to neither” branch but is “attached by the Constitution” to Congress.

Two bills supported by AALL, H.R. 1255 and S. 886, would reverse E.O. 13233 by establishing a deadline for the review of records, limiting the authority of former presidents to withhold records, requiring the president to make privilege claims personally, and eliminating the ability for vice presidents to assert executive privilege claims over vice presidential records. However, with little time left in the 110th Congress, it seems unlikely that the bills will move this year. [Ed. Note: H.R. 1255 passed the House in March 2007. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has maintained a hold on the bill, preventing it from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. See our previous action alert for more information.]

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Supreme Court to Release Same-Day Audio Recording

March 7, 2008

The Supreme Court announced this week that it will release a same-day audio recording of oral argument in District of Columbia v. Heller, a case challenging D.C.’s gun law. The case is scheduled at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 18, 2008. The audio recording will be released to the public shortly after the conclusion of the argument through the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The Supreme Court occasionally releases same-day recordings of high-profile cases.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

AALL Applauds Chief Justice Roberts for Support of PACER Pilot Program

March 6, 2008

AALL President Ann T. Fessenden recently wrote a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, thanking him for his leadership in establishing a joint pilot project to provide free public access to federal court records at selected depository libraries. The joint project between the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AOUSC) and the Government Printing Office (GPO) provides free public access to the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, which allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts online. The new pilot project will allow users to avoid the usual fees for access to the federal court records by using PACER at sixteen depository libraries, including ten law libraries in fourteen states.

In 2006, the AALL Executive Board endorsed a “Resolution on No-Fee FDLP Access to PACER” which requested that the Government Printing Office work with the AOUSC to allow users of federal depository libraries to access PACER at no-fee. AALL has long supported the Federal Depository Library Program and access to government information and we applaud Chief Justice Robert for his leadership on the joint project.

The federal depository libraries participating in the pilot are:

7th Circuit Court of Appeals Library, IL
Alaska State Court Law Library, AK
Fordham Law School, NY
Lee College, TX
New Mexico Supreme Court Law Library, NM
Northern Kentucky University, KY
Nova Southeastern University Law Library, FL
Portland Public Library, ME
Rogers State University, OK
Rutgers Law Library, NJ
Sacramento County Public Law Library, CA
San Bernadino County Law Library, CA
State Library of Ohio, OH
University of Michigan School of Law, MI
University of Tennessee College of Law, TN
Wayne State University, MI

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

EPA Guilty of Bad Faith in Shutting Agency Libraries

February 29, 2008

Via Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER):

“A federal arbitrator has found the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guilty of unfair labor practices and acting in bad faith in its national series of library closures…EPA is ordered to bargain with affected public employee unions before making any further changes in its library network.”

The ruling by Federal Labor Relations Board Arbitrator George Edward Larney is in response to grievances filed on behalf of all affected agency employees by the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, based in Seattle.

Last December, AALL celebrated when Congress included money in the FY 2008 appropriations omnibus bill directing EPA to restore its library services across the country. This ruling is another significant instance of support for EPA libraries and their employees.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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