While questions about who owns judges' official working papers implicate legal historians most directly, such (admittedly complex) questions should also interest empirical legal historians. In "Judges and Their Papers," Kathryn Watts (Washington) makes the case that judicial papers should be construed as public rather than private property. An excerpted abstract follows.
"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 35th 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, the unique position of federal judges, including the judiciary’s independence, should be taken into account when crafting rules that speak to reasonable access to and disposition of judicial papers — not when answering the threshold question of ownership. 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 and confidentiality."