Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Researchers are calling for open and free access to U.S. court records and building an AI tool to analyze them.

Why it matters: Court records are publicly available but expensive to access and difficult to navigate. Freeing up that data — and using machine learning tools to make sense of it — would help make the justice system more just.

While records for Congress and executive agencies are free on the internet, federal courts charge $0.10 per printed page to view any record online.

  • That makes it difficult and costly for researchers, journalists and ordinary citizens to tap the raw data needed to understand the inner workings of the U.S. justice system.

What's new: In one example of the kind of analysis that could be possible with open access, researchers from Northwestern University used an algorithm to scan court records and determine how often judges granted waivers for the $400 fee required to file a federal lawsuit.

  • While there is no uniform standard for granting waivers, the researchers found unexpectedly huge variations. In one district, the approval rate varied from less than 20% for some judges to more than 80% for others.
  • With open access "we can get a fuller picture of what the systematic trends are and make it all easily accessible," says Adam Pah of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and Organizations and one of the co-authors of the study.

What's next: The Northwestern researchers are working on an AI-powered platform called SCALES-OKN that would make federal courtroom data accessible to the public and easily analyzable, linking data in the courts to information outside them.

  • Such a platform could be a potent tool for uncovering hidden bias over money or race in the justice system, says Pah.

The big picture: AI is already being used in the criminal justice system for policing and sentencing, but experts say it too often perpetuates a biased system. Unleashing AI on open court records could provide a welcome opportunity to use technology to further justice, not curtail it.

Go deeper: Coronavirus accelerates AI in health care

Go deeper

Pence calls Chief Justice John Roberts a "disappointment"

Combination images of Vice President Mike Pence and Chief Justice John Roberts. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images/I Senate Television via Getty Images

Vice President Pence told the Christian Broadcast Network in an interview to be broadcast Thursday that Chief Justice John Roberts "has been a disappointment to conservatives."

The state of play: The conservative Roberts has this year sided with the Supreme Court's more liberal justices on abortion, LGBTQ discrimination and the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 20,755,406 — Total deaths: 752,225— Total recoveries: 12,917,934Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 5,246,760 — Total deaths: 167,052 — Total recoveries: 1,774,648 — Total tests: 64,831,306Map.
  3. Politics: House Democrats to investigate scientist leading "Operation Warp Speed" vaccine projectMcConnell announces Senate will not hold votes until Sept. 8 unless stimulus deal is reached.
  4. 2020: Biden calls for 3-month national mask mandateBiden and Harris to receive coronavirus briefings 4 times a week.
  5. States: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to drop lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate.
  6. Business: Why the CARES Act makes 2020 the best year for companies to lose money.
  7. Public health: Fauci's guidance on pre-vaccine coronavirus treatments Cases are falling, but don't get too comfortable.

Trump says he intends to give RNC speech on White House lawn

President Trump speaking to reporters on South Lawn in July. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump told the New York Post on Thursday that he plans to deliver his Republican National Convention speech from the White House lawn, despite bipartisan criticism of the optics and legality of the location.

Why it matters: Previous presidents avoided blurring staged campaign-style events — like party conventions — with official business of governing on the White House premises, per Politico.