Recent articles have implied that the US District Courts are destroying records in an effort to save money on their storage costs. This is simply not true. What is happening is the result of a multi-year, nationwide effort by appraisal staff of the National Archives to develop some objective criteria by which records are identified for permanent retention. The recently updated records schedule from this effort is available in our records control schedule repository as a .pdf. That schedule can be retrieved here.
Under the previous schedule for district court civil case files, only the case files that went to trial were scheduled as permanent; all non-trial cases were appraised as temporary and authorized for destruction unless they were identified to be “historically significant.” We found that this identification was not systematically and consistently applied and we wanted to develop objective criteria to ensure that the historical records were properly identified.
Under this new and revised schedule, 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 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.” Our appraisal staff led a nationwide appraisal project that included meeting with District Court judges and clerks, meeting with legal scholars and historians, reviewing case files in each nature of suit code, having the scholars and historians review the appraisal, and publishing the schedule in the Federal Register for public comment. This appraisal truly identified temporary and permanent cases based on the new criteria. As a result, the new schedule will result in a significantly larger number of cases being retained as permanent.
If you have any questions about our appraisal process, please do not hesitate to leave a comment here.