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This 11-page paper argues that the problems of empirical researchers in accessing federal court data are principally political, not technological or economic. The technological advances of the past twenty years - computerization of court records and internet access through PACER - have been offset almost entirely by political restrictions on data access. Additional restrictions, ostensibly to protect privacy, now threaten to reduce access further. The data access problem discourages research that might produce results critical of the judges or the functioning of the legal process. The problem thus restricts public access to critical evidence of the courts' failures and limits public understanding of how the courts actually function.

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