Online Access to Court Records - from Documents to Data, Particulars to Patterns

28 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2008

Date Written: March 14, 2008


For over a decade the public has had remote access to federal court records held in electronic format, including documents filed by litigants and judicial rulings. First available via dial-up connections, access migrated to the Web in 1998. That and a succession of other improvements to the federal "Public Access to Court Electronic Records" system or PACER prompted the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to proclaim in 2001 that "the advancement of technology has brought the citizen ever closer to the courthouse." Unquestionably, what the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and Judicial Conference of the United States have built offers citizens, businesses, journalists, and scholars unprecedented access to the details of individual court proceedings. But to hold PACER in that frame is to miss much of its impact. Moreover, some of the gains one might hope or expect to flow from enhanced judicial transparency remain largely untouched by this system. The article explores PACER's evolution, larger impact, and unrealized possibilities. It then proceeds to examine why state courts are, in general, approaching online access to court records so differently.

Suggested Citation

Martin, Peter W., Online Access to Court Records - from Documents to Data, Particulars to Patterns (March 14, 2008). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-003. Available at SSRN: or

Peter W. Martin (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901


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