2013 Brings Increased Public Access to Judicial Branch Opinions

Congratulations to our colleagues at GPO and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts! The Judicial Conference has approved national implementation of a successful pilot project to provide free, text-searchable, court opinions on GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=USCOURTS.  Initially, the project included post-April 2004 opinions from twenty-nine U.S. Courts including the Second, Eighth, and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeals and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  The latest release of the courts’ Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system makes the functionality to transfer opinions to FDsys available to all U.S. Courts.  PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) will continue to play an important role in providing fee-based public access to case dockets, briefs, and orders on motions or specific legal issues but this is a terrific step forward in providing the public with free access to authenticated court opinions. 

In the future, I’d love to see an increasing number of individual courts activating CM/ECF transmittal of their opinions to FDsys, as well as bulk access to the United States Courts Opinions collection on FDsys with more metadata.  CM/ECF tracks and PACER provides access to a wealth of useful case information through metadata tagging, including: date filed, originating court, judge, and associated or prior proceedings. PACER users can search cases using these metadata tags, and some of this metadata is available on FDsys already.  For example, FDsys users could search the United States Courts Opinions collection for cases based on the nature of the suit, such as Land Condemnation, Environmental Matters, or the Freedom of Information Act of 1974.   As the collection expands, why not provide additional access to existing CM/ECF metadata on FDsys?[1]

Speaking of judicial data, U.S. Courts has released FY2012 statistics for the twelve Courts of Appeals and the ninety-four federal district courts.  This information is used to present a detailed picture of the United States Courts in the annual report of the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.  Here at the Administrative Conference, we’re looking forward to the release of the 2012 Judicial Business report, which will also include detailed statistical tables for the U.S. Supreme Court and special or legislative courts such as the U.S. Court of International Trade or the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.


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