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Washington AG to sue on National Archives

It was — oh — at least a million years ago when the horrible news broke.

Okay, so it was January 2020, but The Legal Genealogist stands by the characterization on both counts: it does seem like a million years ago — and it was horrible news.

Some obscure public agency tucked away in the bowels of the federal government decided back in January that the National Archives building in Seattle, Washington, should go on the chopping block.

It concluded the facility was underutilized — and hot property with a high resale value.

And so it said it would be sold.1

NARA Seattle

Fortunately for us all the pandemic slowed the pace of activity… but it’s now speeding up again. This building and others are expected to be offered in a package deal as early as January.

And so, the news now reports, Washington State intends to go to court to try to block it,

Washington State Attorney General Robert W. Ferguson announced Friday that the State would file suit against the federal Public Buildings Reform Board to stop the building from being sold out from under the National Archives.2

Ferguson told KIRO Radio’s Seattle’s Morning News listeners that the agency was ignoring or violating “basic foundational federal laws” that apply to such matters.3

First, he said, the agency told no-one the sale had been accelerated, that his staff had discovered it buried in 74 pages of minutes of an October meeting: “they gave zero notice to my office or anybody else.” Second, he said the agency was refusing to turn over documents under the Freedom of Information Act about the decision, and in fact had not even responded to the FOIA request since it was filed nine months ago.

“Key pieces of northwest history are at risk of being moved away,” he continued. “It’s outrageous what they’re doing.”

The lack of notice and lack of consultation with local authorities has been at the center of this fight since it began. The decision was made without any opportunity for stakeholders — those who use and depend on the facility to access the records of the people of the Pacific Northwest — even to be heard.

Let’s repeat that: the decision was made without a single opportunity for a single member of the public impacted by this decision to be heard.

Ferguson says the people will be heard now, at least by the courts, as his office will file suit before the sale date is fixed by the agency.

Note that efforts will continue to find a better alternate home for the holdings of the regional repository than moving them to or splitting them up between the National Archives facilities in Kansas City, Missouri (1,800 miles from Seattle) or Riverside, California, (1,200 miles from Seattle). Washington’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman said in a statement to the news outlet that her office “will continue working with our congressional delegation, tribes, members of the history and archives communities, and other stakeholders on ideas to preserve access and proximity to these archives.” The statement added: “It is also unknown how a new presidential administration could affect the situation.”4

Stay tuned on this one…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Saving Seattle,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 7 Dec 2020).


h/t top reader Albert Gidari for the update…

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “2020 alphabet soup: B is for…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Jan 2020 ( : accessed 7 Dec 2020).
  2. See Feliks Banel, “Attorney General will file suit to block sale of Seattle’s National Archives,”, posted 6 Dec 2020 ( : accessed 7 Dec 2020).
  3. Ibid., interview audio clip.
  4. Banel, “Attorney General will file suit to block sale of Seattle’s National Archives.
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