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Copyright (c) 2006 Curators of the University of Missouri UMKC Law Review

ARTICLE: NARA Appraisal and Disposition Policies for Federal Civil Court Records: Alternate Approaches

Fall, 2006

75 UMKC L. Rev. 45


Marvin H. Kabakoff, Ph.D.*


I. Introduction

Federal court civil case files from the beginning of the Republic until around 1970 are all permanent records and in the physical and legal custody of the National Archives and Records Administration. Increasing volume and increasing costs led both NARA and the Courts to reconsider that policy. The 1980 Court schedule stated that civil case files dated between 1912 and 1979 which resulted in appeals or dealt with reapportionment would be permanent. The remaining cases were to be destroyed ten years after date of final action, unless the court directed a longer period. Permanent post-1979 cases were to be selected by Circuit Archives History Committees. 1 There were numerous objections to this schedule. In 1983, the Courts and the National Archives agreed to maintain as permanent records all cases prior to 1970 and all post-1970 cases that went to trial and to destroy post- 1970 non-trial cases twenty years after transfer to inactive storage in a Federal Records Center. This new schedule "was completed after several years' discussion with the courts and representatives of groups such as the American Society for Legal History." 2

There were several reasons for this decision. Cases that went to trial were thought to be more likely to generate "substantial and substantive documentation." Also, the Courts developed a case management database in the 1970's, SARD, that would simplify the selection of case files. The 1970 date was chosen for practical reasons. Without the SARD database, selecting case files would be very ...
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