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Advocates Urge Transparency Measures Be Included in Future Coronavirus Legislation

A broad coalition of 26 organizations dedicated to good governance, including Fix the Court, delivered a letter to congressional leaders Monday advocating increased transparency and accountability measures in future legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the CARES Act included several important transparency and oversight requirements,” the letter reads, “it is clear that much more is needed to protect the public’s access to information and strengthen meaningful oversight.”

The letter, available here, highlights a number of Fix the Court’s priorities, from protecting court access and facilitating the Freedom of Information Act to increasing whistleblower protections.

Read the full text here.

Improving court access has become more urgent during the last few weeks, as many courtrooms have moved proceedings to virtual platforms. Many courts, both at the state and federal level, have responded to the crisis by livestreaming virtual arguments to the public, but others have lagged behind, curtailing access or canceling oral arguments outright.

The U.S. Supreme Court originally postponed arguments in a cases scheduled for March and April but after widespread public pressure has agreed to conduct arguments virtually next month and livestream audio to the public.

“The mishmash of policies in place at federal appeals courts highlight the need for congressional action on court access,” said FTC’s Gabe Roth. “Congress has the power to force the courts to adopt a uniform policy of livestreaming virtual arguments to preserve the public nature of their proceedings amid the pandemic and beyond.”

In addition to court access, FTC supports other measures included in the letter. Freedom of Information Act requests have been paramount to the organization’s oversight work for years – and that mechanism for oversight must continue even during the pandemic.

Whistleblower protections for judiciary employees and an inspector general for the courts have long been priorities, as well. And suspending PACER fees, both now and into the future, makes sense, since it costs roughly $0.00001 dollars to produce one page of a federal court filing, not $0.10 per page, as the public is currently charged.

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