The family of the late Justice Antonin Scalia will donate his personal papers to Harvard Law School’s library, the school announced Monday, but it could be years before the public can see documents that offer a glimpse into high court deliberations.
The school said that the collection would include Scalia’s writings from his tenure on the Supreme Court as well as his time as a federal appeals court judge, law professor and government official.
A statement from the school says the collection will be available for research on a schedule agreed upon by the Scalia family and the library. Papers from Scalia’s work as a justice and appeals court judge will start being accessible in 2020, but material related to specific cases won’t be opened during the lifetime of other justices or judges involved in the case, the school said.
Rules of review differ
That means it could be years or decades before researchers can view documents that might shed light on the secretive deliberations behind many of the court’s landmark cases. For example, a scholar looking for insight on the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision upholding abortion rights would have to wait until the deaths of five other current and former justices who were part of the decision.
There is no law governing what happens to the personal papers of Supreme Court justices after they leave the court or when they can be made public. The papers of former Justice Thurgood Marshall, for example, were released immediately after his death in 1993. Marshall had left those instructions two years earlier when he designated the Library of Congress to handle his papers.
But that didn’t sit well with some of Marshall’s former colleagues on the high court. Then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote a sharply worded letter to the Library of Congress saying it should have consulted with other justices before releasing the papers.
Scalia served almost 30 years
On the other hand, former Justice William Brennan said some of his papers should not be made public until 20 years after his death.
Scalia served on the court for nearly three decades before he died last year during a hunting trip in Texas. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1960 and met his wife, Maureen, while he was a law student there and she was an undergraduate at Radcliffe College.