The Supreme Court is moving toward a full and free-access system for all documents filed in cases before the Justices — a system expected to be working “as soon as 2016,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., revealed in his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary.

The Court already receives some of its filings electronically, but the present arrangements do not include “all filings at the Court,” in the language the Chief Justice used to describe what will be available by 2016.  That, he said, will include “petitions and responses to petitions, merits briefs, and all other types of motions and applications.”  Public access to all of these materials will be available on the Court’s website without cost, he stressed.

The Chief Justice’s annual report was dominated by a theme of technological advances and their impact on the operation of the courts.  He acknowledged that, because of special concerns about security and other operating limitations for the courts, the judiciary has not been moving as rapidly as some other sectors of society in modernizing its information systems.

“The courts will often choose to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity,” he commented.

When the new system is in place and operating, according to Roberts, filings will still be made in paper form, but there will be a requirement for electronic versions when filed by any party that is represented by an attorney.   Those, like prison inmates, who are too poor to afford lawyers and filing fees and thus are allowed to file papers making their own pleas without cost, will not be required to make electronic submissions.  The Court staff will scan those so-called “pauper” filings and upload them to the Court’s system so that those, too, will be available for public access.

“Once the system has operated effectively for some time and the bar has become well acquainted with it,” the Chief Justice said, “the Court expects that electronic filing will be the official means for all parties represented by counsel, but paper filings will still be required.”

Parties represented by lawyers will still have to pay the Court’s usual filing fees.

The year-end report also discussed the progress of the lower federal courts in adopting and improving the electronic case-filing system that has been in place since 2001.  More than one billion documents can now be retrieved from that system, the Chief Justice noted.  A “next generation” improvement in that system is now being developed within the judiciary, he added.

Lawyers file their documents through the CM/ECF system, and the public can gain access to the filings for a per-page fee through the PACER arrangement.

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Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Court moving to electronic filing, SCOTUSblog (Dec. 31, 2014, 6:01 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/12/court-moving-to-electronic-filing/