Is a Massive Destruction of US Federal Court Records Underway?

Recently, our community became aware of a move in the US Federal Courts to dispose of large numbers of court records. This is not as draconian as it may seem at first read. We checked in with the National Archives and Records Administration – just to make sure this destruction was known to and approved by them. It is. NARA told us:

    Under the prior schedule for district court civil case files,
    only the case files that went to trial were scheduled as
    permanent; all non-trial cases were temporary and
    subject to disposal. 
    Under the new schedule, which was developed after an
    extensive appraisal and public notice and comment
    process, there are now a number of non-trial case files
    that are permanent, based on their "nature of suit
    codes."  The remaining non-trial case files are 
    presumptively temporary (with a 15 year retention),
    unless they have been determined on a case-by-case
    basis by "court officials or NARA to have historical
    value."  The web-posting by the W.D. of Michigan is a
    discretionary effort to solicit public input into the
    case-by-case review process. 
    Accordingly, the new schedule will result in a
    significantly larger number of cases being retained as
    permanent, but also authorizes the destruction, after 15
    years, of the large number of non-historical case files. 

It is likely that the public comment opportunity was provided in the Federal Register, under a notice about Records Schedules Available for Review. Not the sort of thing that usually gets the attention it may warrant.


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