class actions; civil litigation; civil procedure


Legislation that would alter class action practice in the federal courts has been pending in Congress. Nearly a decade’s worth of U.S. Supreme Court cases have restricted the scope and ease of use of the class action device. Class action critics argue that class litigation is a “racket” that fails to compensate plaintiffs and instead enriches plaintiffs’ lawyers at the expense of legitimate business practices. On the other hand, defenders of class actions decry the legislative and judicial forces aligned against them, warning that trends in class action law will eviscerate the practical rights held by consumers and workers. In short, there is considerable controversy over whether class actions are an economic menace or a boon to the little guys. We have two purposes in this brief Article. First, we wish to focus continuing attention on the need for more empirical information about the actual functioning of the federal class action system. Second, we wish to share our current efforts to use a one-of-a-kind collection of docket reports, originally harvested from Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), to fill the empirical gap. Presentation of empirical findings resulting from this effort awaits a future article. However, this Article includes suggestions as to how the federal judiciary and Administrative Office of the United States Courts (“AO”) could improve data management and data reporting so as to make information about federal class actions more accessible to scholars and others interested in how the class action device operates in practice and what reforms, if any, would be advisable.