Federal judge to halt closure, sale of Seattle’s National Archives facility

Feb 12, 2021, 11:10 AM | Updated: 2:55 pm
National Archives Seattle...
The National Archives in Seattle. (Feliks Banel, KIRO Radio)
(Feliks Banel, KIRO Radio)

A federal judge announced his intent Friday to issue a preliminary injunction halting the sale and closure of Seattle’s National Archives facility.

Come Monday, Judge John Coughenour says he will formally grant Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s request for a court order, effectively pausing efforts of the Public Buildings Reform Board (PBRB), an obscure federal agency that led a secretive process in 2019 to target the Seattle facility for closure, and that took steps late last year to expedite the sale.

This comes after a months-long effort from Ferguson, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, and local stakeholders to save the facility from being shut down and keep its priceless Northwest maps, photos, and documents from being moved out of state to California and Missouri.

Documents filed by Ferguson’s office as part of his lawsuit included a motion for preliminary injunction, and nearly 600 pages of declarations from historians, tribes and heritage organizations describing the role of the Seattle facility and its value to the region.

Saving Seattle’s National Archives will take a team effort

On Friday, Ferguson praised the decision from Judge Coughenour, detailing how it “preserves our ability to physically connect to our history by visiting the Archives and accessing the un-digitized records that are deeply personal to many.”

“The federal government callously ignored deep concerns raised by the decision to ship these records to California and Missouri, including issues related to racial equity, tribal relations, conservation, good government, and the rule of law,” he said in a written release. “The judge just did what these federal agencies should have done – consider the facility’s importance to our region and apply the law.”

Ferguson also emphasized that “this is not the end of the legal case,” given that Judge Coughenour is merely issuing a preliminary injunction.

“It puts a stop to the sale, but we still need to move forward in the coming weeks and months to prevail on the ultimate merits of the case,” he told KIRO Radio’s Feliks Banel. “In other words, Judge Coughenour still will likely need to reach a final decision on the case.”

As the case progresses, Ferguson believes that the injunction bodes well for how the the judge might decide to rule when it’s all said and done.

“The fact that he granted our motion today and the way he expressed that during the hearing today puts us in a very very strong position to prevail in this case ultimately — that’s clear,” he pointed out.

KIRO Radio’s Feliks Banel contributed to this report

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Federal judge to halt closure, sale of Seattle’s National Archives facility