NewYorkUniversity
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Kathryn A. Watts

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Judges and Their Papers

Kathryn A. Watts

Who should own a federal judge’s papers? This question has rarely been asked. Instead, it has generally been accepted that the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal judges own their working papers, which include papers created by judges relating to their official duties, such as internal draft opinions, confidential vote sheets, and case-related correspondence. This longstanding tradition of private ownership has led to tremendous inconsistency. For example, Justice Thurgood Marshall’s papers were released just two years after he left the bench, revealing behind-the-scenes details about major cases involving issues such as abortion and flag burning. In contrast, Justice David Souter’s papers will remain closed until the fiftieth anniversary of his retirement, and substantial portions of Justice Byron White’s papers, including files relating to the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona, were shredded. In addition, many collections of lower federal court judges’ papers have been scattered in the hands of judges’ families. Notably, this private ownership model has persisted despite the fact that our country’s treatment of presidential records shifted from private to public ownership through the Presidential Records Act of 1978. Furthermore, private ownership of judicial papers has endured even though it has proven ill-equipped to balance the many competing interests at stake, ranging from calls for governmental accountability and transparency on the one hand, to the judiciary’s independence, collegiality, confidentiality, and integrity on the other.

This Article is the first to give significant attention to the question of who should own federal judges’ working papers and what should happen to the papers once a judge leaves the bench. Upon the thirty-fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Presidential Records Act, this Article argues that judges’ working papers should be treated as governmental property—just as presidential papers are. Although there are important differences between the roles of president and judge, none of the differences suggest that judicial papers should be treated as a species of private property. Rather than counseling in favor of private ownership, the unique position of federal judges, including the judiciary’s independence in our constitutional design, suggests the advisability of crafting rules that speak to reasonable access to and disposition of judicial papers. Ultimately, this Article—giving renewed attention to a long-forgotten 1977 governmental study commissioned by Congress—argues that Congress should declare judicial papers public property and should empower the judiciary to promulgate rules implementing the shift to public ownership. These would include, for example, rules governing the timing of public release of judicial papers. By involving the judiciary in implementing the shift to public ownership, Congress would enhance the likelihood of judicial cooperation, mitigate separation of powers concerns, and enable the judiciary to safeguard judicial independence, collegiality, confidentiality, and integrity.

Visual Rulemaking

Elizabeth G. Porter, Kathryn A. Watts

Federal rulemaking has traditionally been understood as a text-bound, technocratic process. However, as this Article is the first to uncover, rulemaking stakeholders—including agencies, the President, and members of the public—are now deploying politically tinged visuals to push their agendas at every stage of high-stakes, often virulently controversial, rulemakings. Rarely do these visual contributions appear in the official rulemaking record, which remains defined by dense text, lengthy cost-benefit analyses, and expert reports. Perhaps as a result, scholars have overlooked the phenomenon we identify here: the emergence of a visual rulemaking universe that is splashing images, GIFs, and videos across social media channels. While this new universe, which we call “visual rulemaking,” might appear to be wholly distinct from the textual rulemaking universe on which administrative law has long focused, the two are not in fact separate. Visual politics are seeping into the technocracy.

This Article argues that visual rulemaking is a good thing. It furthers fundamental regulatory values, including transparency and political accountability. It may also facilitate participation by more diverse stakeholders—not merely regulatory insiders who are well-equipped to navigate dense text. Yet we recognize that visual rulemaking poses risks. Visual appeals may undermine the expert-driven foundation of the regulatory state, and some uses may threaten or outright violate key legal doctrines, including the Administrative Procedure Act and longstanding prohibitions on agency lobbying and propaganda. Nonetheless, we conclude that administrative law theory and doctrine ultimately can and should welcome this robust new visual rulemaking culture.