NEW YORK—PEN America has joined a diverse coalition of media organizations in filing a new amicus brief in support of the rights of the public and the press to have accessible and affordable access to court records.  

Filed in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, National Consumer Law Center, and Alliance for Justice, twenty-seven media and free press organizations signed on to advocate for affordable access to court records, currently threatened by high fees imposed by the government through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system (PACER). The district court held that the government’s use of PACER fees to fund certain activities surrounding press and public access to court records was unauthorized by statute. The amicus brief argues that reporters rely on court documents to inform the public, and any fees beyond the cost of dissemination are not authorized by the statute, burden the press, and are contrary to First Amendment values.  

“Ensuring equitable access to court records is of critical importance for journalists who may otherwise be unable to report on matters of public concern,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs. “These records often serve as the foundation for vital reporting on the government and the justice system in particular. As the news media feels an increasing financial crunch and as local papers shutter around the country, the cost of sending journalists to courthouses or paying exorbitant fees for electronic records access becomes an undue burden the press and threatens journalists’ ability to do their jobs.”

The full text of the amicus can be found here, filed January 23.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org