Appraising US District Court Records

Today’s post comes from Arian Ravanbakhsh, electronic records policy analyst in the Modern Records Programs at the National Archives.

Our colleagues over at Records Express have written about the details of a records appraisal project that will result in considerably more records being transferred to us for permanent retention and made available for researchers. You can read about the details in the latest blog post. We thought we would share the project here on NARAtions to let more of our researcher community know about this significant records appraisal.

Under the old records schedule for district court civil case files, only the files from cases that went to trial were scheduled as permanent. Other cases, those that did not go to trial, were appraised as temporary and authorized for destruction unless they were identified to be “historically significant.” Appraisal staff from NARA, working with the Administrative Office of the US Courts found that this identification was not being made on a consistent basis. So they started a nationwide project to reassess the records and try to develop a solution that ensured the preservation of all records that are historically valuable.

Now, with the completion of that project and the approval of a new records schedule, there are a number of non-trial case files that are permanent, based on their “nature of suit codes.” Suit codes are basically the classification scheme used by the Administrative Office of the US Courts to identify the type of case. During this project, our appraisal staff met with District Court judges and clerks, legal scholars, and historians to properly appraise the records. They also reviewed case files in every suit code. Additionally, legal scholars and historians reviewed the appraisal. Finally, the schedule was published in the Federal Register for general public review and comment.

Opinion of United States District Court Judge Irving Ben Cooper granting summary judgment in favor of the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees, 04/23/1970. Since this case went to trial, this district court record was retained under the previous appraisal guidelines, and will still be retained under the new guidelines. Now, certain types of cases that do not go to trial may also be retained.


What this amounts to for the period of 1970-2009 is 1.4 million cases that are now going to be preserved by NARA. The represents a 300% increase over what the old records schedule had identified as permanent.


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