About the Powell Archives

The Lewis F. Powell Jr. Archives comprises the Papers of Lewis F. Powell Jr., other manuscript collections held by the law library, the rare book collection, and the archives of the School of Law. With the extensive and and unique documentation of the life of this school's most distinguished alumnus as its centerpiece, the Powell Archives welcomes researchers from across the United States and from the international research community. Washington and Lee faculty and students are especially encouraged to use these resources.







The Lewis F. Powell Jr. Archives is located in Sydney Lewis Hall, the home of the Washington and Lee University School of Law, in historic Lexington, Virginia. The archives is open to researchers by appointment. As this area is staffed by one archivist, researchers are encouraged to contact the archives will in advance of an anticipated visit. When possible, the archivist will digitize materials on request for both W&L and remote researchers in accordance with existing policies and procedures.

Getting to the Archives

The Lewis F. Powell Jr. Archives is situated in the Washington and Lee University School of Law in historic Lexington, Virginia. There is no public transportation directly to Lexington. The closest general aviation airport is located 50 miles south in Roanoke, Virginia. The nearest train connections are Staunton, Virginia, 35 miles north, and Clifton Forge, Virginia, 25 miles west. Located near a crossroad of interstate highways 81 and 64, Lexington is easily accessible by auto. Washington, DC is approximately a 3 hour drive to the northeast. Charlottesville, Virginia--home of the University of Virginia--is a 1 1/4 hour drive in the same direction, and also has its own airport and Amtrak depot.


A variety of visitor lodging is available. The range includes restored historic inns, bed and breakfast establishments, and national motel chains. There are a small number of rooms that the university provides for visitors at low cost. Those desiring this type of accomodation should contact the archives as early as possible. A listing of public accommodations and maps giving directions to the campus are available upon request from the archives or through the links on this page. As matriculations; reunion and homecoming weekends; commencements and other events throughout the academic years of both Washington and Lee University and its neighbor, the Virginia Military Institute, more than fill area motels and inns, it is wise to make reservations well in advance of your visit. You might also wish to check the academic calendars of both W&L and VMI in an attempt to plan visits away from these busy times.


Visitor Parking at the law school is extremely limited when classes are in sessions. If you cannot find a visitor parking space, ask for a visitor parking permit in the law school. When classes are not in session, you may park in any of the law school lots.


What We Can Do

We are aware of the impediments to travel to Lexington, of the ever increasing costs of travel generally, and of the changing research landscape with ever rising expectations that materials be made available online. Since its inception, the Powell Archives has responded to reasonable photocopying requests made by mail or phone, and later via email. More recently, the archives has begun responding to distance requests by scanning the requested material, and making it available online to all researchers. This is particularly true of Justice Powell's Supreme Court case files.

What We Cannot Do

We cannot do research for distant users. That is, we will find specifically identified materials and reproduce them, but we cannot search through collections and select what we speculate would be of interest to a researcher. We also reserve the right to not take on copying projects so large as to inhibit prompt service to other researchers. We, of course, abide by copyright laws, and do not reproduce restricted materials.

Access to Materials

The archives resources are available to the researching public under the conditions stated below, and with the exceptions stated in our access policy. Archives or manuscripts held by the library with restrictions on their use may be used only subject to those restrictions.

On your first visit to the repository, you will be asked to complete a reader registration form and may be asked to provide two forms of identification, at least one of which contains a photograph and current address.

Only those books and papers necessary for research are permitted in the reading room. As a security measure, the archives reserves the right to inspect all items removed from the search room or that have been in the search room. This includes coats, umbrellas, purses, briefcases, backpacks, carrying cases, and portfolios

Search room tables are reserved for the use of repository materials and other items necessary for research and note-taking. Eating, drinking, and smoking are not permitted.

All repository materials are non-circulating and must be consulted only in the search room.

Repository materials are housed in closed stacks. A finding aid is available for each collection. Based on an examination of the finding aids, a request must be made for each item or collection to facilitate its retrieval and to establish responsibility for its use.

Handling Materials

Since much of the material in this repository is rare, often unique, and sometimes fragile or brittle, it is essential that particular care be taken in handling each book and manuscript. Persons found to be involved in the mutilation, destruction, or theft of materials are subject to prosecution. We request your cooperation in preserving these valuable and irreplaceable collections by observing the following procedures and regulations:

Portable computers, cameras, scanners, pencils and ballpoint pens only may be used in the search room.

Materials should not be written on, leaned on, altered, folded anew, traced, or handled in any way likely to inflict damage. Notify staff of anything needing preservation attention.

When using archive and manuscript material, maintain the exact order of folders in a box and of items within a folder. Remove only one folder at a time from a manuscript box and do not remove materials from the folder. If a mistake in arrangement is suspected, call it to the attention of the staff. Do not rearrange the material yourself.

Though readers must respect reading room conventions of courtesy and take care not to disturb other readers, arrangements may be made for the use of voice recorders, cameras, personal computers, and scanners in the search room. Readers must receive permission before photographing materials or using personal copiers or digital scanners. Photoduplication services are available.


These materials are made available for the sole purpose of research and study. Permission to examine materials is not an authorization to photocopy or publish them. All requests for permission to publish or quote from these materials must be submitted to the Powell Archives. Permission for publication is often given on behalf of the Powell Archives as owner of the physical materials. This is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, in instances where copyrights have not been transferred to this archives or to the public. In such instances, permission must also be obtained by the reader from the copyright holder before quoting more than a "brief extract" or publishing any reproduction.

The Powell Archives would be happy to receive complimentary copies of publications which have made use of its resources.


In citing materials from the collections in this repository, use the following sample format:
[Item description and/or series information]
[Collection Title, Mss. ### or RG. ###]
Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Archives
Washington and Lee University School of Law


The Supreme Court case files and other materials are open to researchers.* The usual restriction on personally identifiable information of individuals is in place. This occurs mostly in correspondence files.

Justice Powell wrote in his donor deposit agreement:

"Material from the Depositor's Supreme Court ... files not already public information (is restricted), for so long as any member of the Supreme Court ... with whom the Depositor served remains a member of the Supreme Court ..., except with the written consent of Justice Powell. ... After Justice Powell's death ..., the Archivist will make this determination with the approval of the Dean of the School of Law."

With the February 2016 death of Justice Scalia, all of the Justices with whom Powell sat are now off of the Supreme Court bench. This restriction no longer applies.

*There are restrictions on some other portions of the papers, Fourth Circuit case files, and personal medical records are examples. Contact the archivist Jenny Mitchell (jmitchell@wlu.edu) for more information.


Other Sources for Washington & Lee School of Law History

This law school became associated with Washington & Lee University (then Washington College) soon after the Civil War. The administration of the law school was virtually indistinguishable from that of the university as a whole well into the twentieth century. Most early records of the law school, therefore, are held in Special Collections at W&L's Leyburn Library, which houses the university archives. Among the holdings here is the typescript draft of Ollinger Crenshaw's 1968 history of W&L, General Lee's College. The draft of the chapter on the law school is more extensive than the published version and contains notes to sources.

The law school web site contains sketches of the history of W&L law school, of its faculty, or of selected alumni.

Other Sources of Information About Powell Family History and Genealogy

Papers of assorted Powells, Gwathmeys, and Ruckers can be found at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. Genealogists will want to consult the vital records held at the Library of Virginia. An ever increasing amount of the library's holdings is available on-line.

Other Sources of Powell Photos

The Powell Archives holds many photographs of Justice Powell and his family. Almost certainly, however, the best selection of photos of Powell as a Justice is held by the Office of the Curator of the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, the office has endeavored to collect the widest possible range of photos for all of the Supreme Court Justices. 

Other Supreme Court and Lower Federal Court Primary Sources

Library of Congress Manuscripts Division

LC has by far the largest holdings of Justices' papers. Several of Powell's contemporaries, including Justices Brennan, Douglas, Marshall, and White, have donated their papers here.


Best known for its extensive oral arguments audio recordings, this site is everything SCOTUS.

National Archives and Records Administration

Federal Court administrative records are here as are the audio recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments. Selected arguments can be heard on the Supreme Court Oral Argument web site. Full text Supreme Court decisions can be found at several web locations including Cornell Law School's excellent site.

The Federal Judicial Center's Federal Judicial History Office

This is "the" source for locating federal court records and the papers of federal judges. No link to the History Office is apparent from this page. There are, however, several publications of the Federal Judicial History Office available in PDF format (you must have reader software such as Adobe Acrobat), including A Directory of Oral History Interviews Related to the Federal Courts, A Guide to the Preservation of Federal Judges' Papers, and its newsletter The Court Historian.

Yale University Library Department of Archives and Manuscripts

Yale University holds the papers of Powell Supreme Court contemporary Potter Stewart. So extensive are Yale's holdings of legal resources that a 1983 listing of relevant collections ran 83 pages.

The College of William and Mary

In 1996, the estate of former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger chose William & Mary's Swem Library as the repository for the Burger papers. They are closed to researchers until 2026.

Lists of Legal History Websites

American Society for Legal History

Duke University School of Law

A Social Science Data Archive

The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) homepage includes Prof. Harold Spaeth's "United States Supreme Court Judicial Database, 1953-1995 Terms" (Study # 9422) in its "Criminal Justice Data" (NACJD) section. This database "emcompasses all aspects of United States Supreme Court decision-making from the beginning of the Warren Court in 1953 up to the completion of the 1995 term of the Rehnquist Court on July 1, 1996."

Selected printed sources

Jeffries, John C. Jr., Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.: A Biography. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons: 1994.

An erudite yet highly accessible biography of Powell by one of his Supreme Court clerks, now an Associate Dean at the University of Virginia Law School.

Wigdor, Alexandra K., The Personal Papers of Supreme Court Justices. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, Inc.; 1986.

Though somewhat dated, this remains the authoritative source concerning the existence and location of the papers of the Justices up to 1985.