Roe v. Wade attorney Linda Coffee’s archive of nearly 150 case-related documents went under the hammer today — on the 53rd anniversary of the day when Coffee and her co-counsel, the late Sarah Weddington, filed the original lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas. The trove, offered by the auction house Nate D. Sanders in Los Angeles, sold for a whopping $615,632 (including a 25% buyer’s premium). Bids opened at $50,000.
According to the auction house, the archive includes the receipt in Coffee’s name dated March 3, 1970 for the $15 filing fee at the US District court; the original notarized affidavit signed by Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) with the 10-point outline of reasons to terminate her pregnancy; Coffee’s signed and embossed State of Texas law license that she obtained only two years prior to filing Roe v. Wade; and a pre-case typewritten letter from Coffee requesting Weddington’s co-counselship in the event of the lawsuit. The archive also includes the two quill pens bestowed to Coffee by the Supreme Court for her arguments in 1971 and 1972.
The lot is especially salient as Roe v. Wade afforded women across the nation the right to an abortion for nearly 50 years until the Supreme Court officially overturned the ruling last June. Coffee grieved the potential overturning after the Supreme Court draft opinion was leaked a month prior, writing in the New Republic that “the loss of the right to privacy and the ability of American women to make their own decisions about pregnancy signifies a loss of dignity.”
Today, several states including Texas have enforced trigger bans. Some Texas physicians are now reportedly speaking in code, noting that “the weather is really nice in New Mexico” or that “Colorado is really nice this time of year” to avoid accusations of aiding and abetting a pregnant patient into an abortion.
In an interview with Kathy Wise for D Magazine, a now-80-year-old Coffee and her partner, 70-year-old Rebecca Hartt, talked about the need to hand the case documents and related effects over to the next generation. Coffee was stricken with West Nile Virus in September of 2020 and required a year of rehabilitation to regain her faculties. Sarah Weddington passed away a little over a year later in December 2021, and Roe v. Wade was overturned six months later, lighting the fire for Coffee and Hartt to consider the future of the archive in conjunction with the future of women’s rights in the US and prepare the documents for auction.
“The court’s system has been changed now to computers,” Hartt told Wise. “So it is really nifty in this important case to have all those letters and documents and receipts.” Coffee said that most people couldn’t believe that “it all started with $15.”
The auction house has not released the name of the buyer at this time. Some have lamented that the archive could end up in a private collection, obscured from the public when it’s needed most.
“We don’t know who’s going to end up acquiring it, but hopefully it will motivate some of the people to get into law or politics or whatever, because it needs to be challenged,” Hartt concluded.