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AG Bob Ferguson weighs legal action over Seattle National Archives closure

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson told KIRO Radio listeners Monday afternoon that his office is considering the possibility of a lawsuit against the federal government in the wake of the decision over the weekend by the Office of Management and Budget and the National Archives and Records Administration to close and sell the Seattle National Archives facility.

Ferguson told hosts Feliks Banel and Meili Cady that he grew up visiting the archives with his father, and that his sister is a librarian in Seattle who often refers people there.

“My sister said the same thing you said,” Ferguson said, after Banel described how a KIRO Radio listener helped bring the possible closure to light on Jan. 15, and how the decision to close – which involved no public or stakeholder input over a months-long process – took everyone by surprise. “She said herself and this historical community was blindsided by what happened.”

While Ferguson says he disagrees with the policy, this won’t be the focus as his staff reviews potential actions that his office could take.

“I know the one thing that has stopped [the Trump Administration] from taking actions that I think are unlawful and unconstitutional and that’s a federal lawsuit, so that’s what we’re focused on,” Ferguson said. “Now look, the overall policy, do I think it’s outrageous? It’s crazy. Yes, for all the reasons you’ve already talked about, right? It makes no sense, and to take the history, the federal history of our region, and send it thousands of miles away will have a huge impact on a lot of folks and tribes here in our community.”

Attorney General Ferguson, who has sued the Trump Administration more than 50 times in the past three years — and who has so far won 24 straight legal victories in those actions — says that public opinion doesn’t seem to matter much to the executive branch these days.

“I don’t suggest that a public outcry has no chance of success [in turning back a decision like closing the Seattle National Archives],” Ferguson said. “It’s just in my experience that once the federal government makes these decisions to go forward on whatever that issue might be, the threat of a lawsuit hasn’t stopped them, protests in the streets haven’t stopped them, letters haven’t stopped them.”

“In my experience, what has been the most effective way to stop them, which is unfortunate, is a federal lawsuit,” he continued. “I wish I did not have to file so many lawsuits. You would think after 24 consecutive losses in federal courts the [Trump] administration would say ‘Hey, you know what, maybe we should listen to the people of Washington when it comes to this particular issue.’”

Ferguson’s team will review the process that led to the recommended closure and sale of the Seattle National Archives, and perhaps have conversations with affected parties, such as Native American tribes and other stakeholders who weren’t consulted before the decision was made.

Ferguson said that many of the legal victories his team has won have typically come on procedural issues “because the Administration violates something called the Administrative Procedure Act, which is about as boring as it sounds.”

“But it’s the Procedural Act that requires them to take procedural steps before they make changes to people’s lives,” Ferguson said. “And they simply don’t do it over and over and over again. And that’s why they lose in court to us all the time. So my team is looking at whether there were procedural steps that the federal government was required to take before reaching this decision — if they took those or not — and that’s what we’re focused on.”

As much as Ferguson disagrees with the notion of shipping the federal archives for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska a thousand miles away to Southern California and robbing local researchers, tribes and others of easy access to a critical resource, he says that’s not what he would potentially take issue with and not what his staff will be looking at in the days and weeks ahead.

“Where I’ll be focused, just to be clear, is not whether the policy is a good idea or not. I have an opinion on that, but that opinion doesn’t really matter,” Ferguson said. “What I’ll be focused on, and what my team is focused on … is whether or not what this administration did violate the law.”

“If they did, they’re going to see us in court,” he added.

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