The D.C. Circuit is one of the thirteen federal court circuits and consists of the U.S. District Court (a federal trial court) and the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Circuit covers the smallest geographic area of any of the circuits - its jurisdiction extends only to Washington D.C. - but it historically has had an outsized influence on the law as a frequent forum for litigation involving federal government agencies. The Historical Society, which was started in 1990, brings the Circuit's rich legacy to life through articles and oral histories, reenactments, displays and publications, archival preservation, and a mock appellate argument program for area high school students.

What's New


New Oral History: Judge James Robertson

Judge James Robertson "Light reading" is not the way one normally thinks of oral histories, but Judge James Robertson delivers just that. His oral history moves casually through his early life, Naval service, two stints at what is now WilmerHale, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, President of the D.C. Bar, federal district judge, and, after leaving the bench, mediator. It is chock-full of vivid anecdotes. Incensed at the arrest of anti-war demonstrators during the Vietnam War, Robertson rushes from his office at Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering to the jail, but Lloyd Cutler is there already organizing the volunteer lawyers. Robertson became bored with the big, seemingly endless cases at the firm, "So I quit." However, returning to the firm three years later, the same cases awaited him as though they had been in a freezer. Judge Robertson is at his best in giving the reader a peek into what it is like to be a federal judge. While some liken judges to umpires calling balls and strikes, Robertson notes, "Nobody ever tells an Article III judge how to do anything." He talks about collegiality among judges and about how service on the exotic Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court in reality means spending a week locked up in a soundproof room with a stack of warrants. If you have thought the Society's oral histories might be boring and have been afraid to wade into them, fear no more.

Interviewer Ann Allen formerly served as Vice-President and General Counsel of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and General Counsel of the Gynecologic Oncologoy Group.


12th Annual Mock Court Program

Chief Judge Garland and a student. The Historical Society's 12th Annual Mock Court Program was a huge success this year. Over 170 students from McKinley Tech, School Without Walls, H.D. Woodson, and Maret School presented 5-6 minute appellate style arguments before 14 federal and D.C. Court judges on March 10. This was the largest program ever. Over 30 attorneys from D.C.'s legal community volunteered their time and met 4-5 times with the students, assisting them in preparing their arguments.

Chief Judge Merrick Garland (pictured right) welcomed the students before they proceeded to their assigned courtrooms with their teachers and attorney mentors to present their arguments. They argued two hypothetical cases. One involved First Amendment and due process issues arising from a fictional student blog on which students expressed their views on the performance of their teachers, which in turn led to the suspension of the student running the blog. The second involved Fourth Amendment and due process issues arising from the search by school officials of three students' cell phones suspected of preparing to engage in a vandalism prank against a rival football school, and their later suspension from school.

Each judge presented an Outstanding Advocate Award to the best student advocate, and Chief Judge Beryl Howell thanked the students for their participation. A pizza lunch followed. Click here for additional information and photos.


Judges Tatel and Sentelle In re Judith Miller - National Security and the Reporter's Privilege

We now have the full program on video of In re Judith Miller, a Society-sponsored program that explored the common-law basis for a reporter's privilege and how best to strike the balance between the public's right to know and the Government's need to secure information in the national interest. The program began with remarks by Professor David Pozen of Columbia Law School. He provided the historical background to the case in which New York Times reporter Judith Miller refused to comply with a grand jury subpoena that sought access to documents and testimony related to conversations she had had with a confidential source. Professor Pozen also highlighted the unusual nature of this case - unlike the paradigm situation where a reporter seeks to protect the identity of a low-level whistleblower regarding government corruption, this case involved the strategic leaking of information by high-level government officials in an apparent effort to discredit a low-level government official. Read more! [Pictured above, Judge David S. Tatel and Senior Judge David B. Sentelle]


Learning About The Legal System by Participating In It

About 200 high school students -- the largest number of student advocates ever -- are getting ready to participate in the Historical Society's 12th Mock Court Program on March 10. Right now the students are working with over 30 volunteer mentors from many Washington D.C. law firms as they prepare to present appellate-style oral arguments to 14 participating judges who sit on our Court of Appeals or District Court, the Federal Circuit, the D.C. Court of Appeals, or the D.C. Superior Court. The students are from Maret, McKinley Tech, Woodson, and School Without Walls.

The students will be welcomed by Chief Judge Garland and honored by Chief Judge Howell. Following the arguments, the Society will honor the students over pizza and hot dogs.


Charles Duncan Charles Duncan on Translating Brown into lasting Social Change

Most people know Brown v. Topeka Board of Education ended school segregation, but they may not realize it was really just the start of decades of litigation and legislation to secure civil rights in a wide spectrum of activities. This was lawyer Charles Duncan's role. Genevieve Beske uses the oral history he gave the Society to write "Charles Duncan on Translating Brown into lasting Social Change."


Howard Westwood's Oral History

Howard Westwood reflects on clerking for Justice Stone before the Supreme Court structure was built as well as practicing as a lawyer when Covington & Burling LLP had only 17 lawyers. Read more of Westwood's oral history.


Remembering E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., former Chair and President of the Historical Society of the D.C. Circuit

Hogan Lovells is hosting a celebration of Barrett's life and work on February 23rd at 555 13th Street, NW, Washington, DC from 4:00 - 6:00 pm. Please join the remembrance of Barrett and celebratory reception. RSVP to Angela Carter at 202-637-6926.