Since its founding in 1801, the D.C. Circuit has been the setting for many exciting and consequential actions.
The Historical Society brings that legacy to life through a variety of stimulating activities including reenactments, reevaluations,
displays and publications, archival preservation and mock arguments involving area high school students.
The Historical Society began its work in 1990 by commissioning Professor Jeffrey Brandon Morris to write a definitive history of
the first 200 years of the D.C. Circuit Courts, Calmly to Poise the Scales of Justice: A History of the Courts of the District of
Columbia Circuit. Available on request.
The Society also has completed more than 76 oral histories of judges and practitioners
who influenced the law in the Circuit. Many of the oral histories can be accessed through this website. Click on Oral History Program.
D.C. Law: Almost as Old as the Magna Carta?
Is it possible that remnants of the old British law and the laws of Maryland and Virginia are still on the
books in the District of Columbia? Surprisingly, "random areas" of the law before the District had its
own laws may still exist, according to David Hyden in the Legal Counsel Division of the Office of D.C.
Attorney General Irvin Nathan. Learn more....
Now on display in the Courthouse
U.S. District Judge Louis Oberdorfer's extraordinary contributions to the bench and bar are noted in the latest Historical Society exhibit on the lobby floor of the U.S. Courthouse. Judge Oberdorfer wrote more than 1,300 opinions. He was a founder of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Legal Services Corporation and was president of the D.C. Bar. He remained active in the work of the Court until his death on February 21 at age 94.
Mock Court Program
On April 12, 75 students from six D.C. public high schools and two private schools had the unusual opportunity of arguing in the federal courthouse before federal judges in the eighth Mock Court Program sponsored by the Historical Society. Nine judges heard the arguments and selected an outstanding advocate in each of their courtrooms-with each winner receiving a monetary prize from the Society. Prior to the Program, 28 volunteer attorneys from eight law firms helped prepare the students for their arguments.
Chief Judge Royce Lamberth welcomed the students at the opening ceremony, and Chief Judge Merrick Garland congratulated them at the closing ceremony when each of the nine judges presented certificates to the participating students and announced the outstanding advocate in his or her courtroom. Almost all of the judges noted that the choice of an outstanding advocate had been difficult because so many of the students had given excellent arguments. The Program concluded with a reception in the courthouse Atrium.
"Women in the Life and Law of the D.C. Circuit Courts" is the upcoming Historical Society program that will bring together judges, administrators, law clerks, and practicing attorneys, each with direct experience in our courts, to discuss the past, present, and future of women in the Courts of the D.C. Circuit.
Stanford Emerita Professor of Law Barbara Babcock will open the program with stage-setting remarks on the roles of women in this Circuit. A panel discussion will follow in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Chief Judge Patricia M. Wald, Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth, former Clerk of the U.S. District Court Nancy Mayer-Whittington, and advocates Michele Roberts and Helgi Walker will respond to questions posed by Professor Babcock, the moderator, and to the comments of other panelists and program attendees.
Please join us on Tuesday, June 18 at 4:30 p.m. in the Ceremonial Courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse. A reception will follow the program. Everyone is invited; no reservations are required.
On the Docket: Flapjacks and Underwear
The post-World War One Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia was vastly different than the federal circuit court we know today. In its 1918-19 term, half of its cases involved local disputes and the remainder were almost entirely patent and trademark appeals. The patent cases concerned such things as paper drinking cups, drill bits for digging oil wells, an improvement relating to engine starters, and a device for launching torpedoes. Among the trademark cases were lawsuits to protect the trademarks of Aunt Jemima and BVDs!
Visitors to the Historical Society's website will now be able to learn more about the unique character and history of the courts of the D.C. Circuit. Born of the need to address both federal and local concerns, the courts of the District of Columbia have a rich and colorful history described in a new posting on the Society's home page. A bibliography is included for those who wish to do their own research. We invite you to take a look.
In the Society's latest newsletter, plans for two of its upcoming programs are outlined: the 2013 Mock Court Program for area high school students and "Women in the Life and Law of the Courts of the D.C. Circuit." The newsletter introduces the new oral histories of Judge John R. Fisher and Dean Judith Areen as well as some facts of historical interest.
Oral History of Dean Judith Areen
The inside workings of legal academia and a host of other subjects are discussed in a remarkable oral history detailing the career of one of the nation's most innovative and influential legal educators, former Georgetown University Law Center dean Judith Areen.
Areen, now the Paul Regis Dean Professor at the Law Center, served as Executive Vice President for Law Affairs at the University and dean of the law school for 15 years (1989-2004), and again as interim dean in 2010. She is an acclaimed authority on the law of higher education and family law. She held a number of White House posts in the Carter administration.
In interviews conducted over a five-year period, Areen describes how law schools must increasingly grow more global in their outlook and broaden their teaching to become what she calls "problem-focused," rather than "case-focused" or "litigation-focused." As a pathfinder for women in the law, she candidly tells the story of her own struggles to overcome gender inequality. More than thirty years ago she worked to give women in the military more responsibility, even if it meant a role in combat.
Transcripts of the interviews are in the Library of Congress, the Historical Society of Washington D.C., and the Judges' Library in the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse. The interviews were conducted by Timothy G. Lynch, who served in senior positions in the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Energy. In January 2013, he became Vice President and General Counsel of the University of Michigan.
Oral History of D.C. Court of Appeals Judge John R. Fisher
John R. Fisher should know something about appellate advocacy. He spent 23 years in the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C. - 16 of them as Chief of the Appellate Division before elevation to the District's highest court. His advice: Be a salesman. In a just completed Historical Society oral history, Fisher, an Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, says "You have to be able to look somebody in the eye, you have to state sincerely your view of things, and you have to be able to respond candidly to questions about the product you're selling."
Fisher also had advice for judges: Fewer dissents and fewer concurrences. "I believe our primary goal ought to be to make the law, make the individual decision as clear as we can, and having an extra opinion out there often detracts from the clarity."
In the oral history,, Fisher recounts his defenses of the Jonathan Pollard and Dan Rostenkowski prosecutions, among others. He was interviewed by Cecil Hunt, counsel to Wiltshire & Grannis LLP and former chairman of the International Law Section of the District of Columbia Bar.
A Texas-sized Mystery
Thirty-one year old Robert Martin of Little Elm, Texas, doesn't remember what he paid for them. As a teenager, he bought two presidential documents at a thrift shop near Houston that no one else seemed to want - one bearing the signature of Franklin Roosevelt and the other, of Harry Truman.
Those documents were the 1933 commission appointing E. Barrett Prettyman to be General Counsel of the Department of Internal Revenue and Prettyman's 1945 appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Martin, a senior associate with Crowdverb, a digital communications and grassroots mobilization company, has donated the documents to the Historical Society.
But how did the documents come to be in a box so far from Washington? Prettyman's son, E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., of Hogan Lovells, says he doesn't know. Neither does Martin, who worked at the White House years after buying the commissions.
In a letter accompanying the commissions, Martin said the Prettyman courthouse was a familiar sight as he drove to work in Washington and realized the significance of the documents. He wrote, "I'm glad to have been a caretaker for these important commissions. They are now returning to their true home."
Read the entire article along with Robert Martin's recollections.
Seeing Red: The D.C. Circuit and the Hollywood Ten
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia played a major role in the post- World War Two anti-Communist crusades. In perhaps its most notorious case, a panel upheld the contempt-of-Congress conviction of screenwriters Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson, members of the "Hollywood Ten" who refused to answer questions in a 1947 hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The opinion by Judge Bennett Champ Clark stated that “in the current ideological struggle between communist-thinking and democratic-thinking people of the world” the power of the motion picture industry to influence public opinion made it a legitimate target of congressional investigators seeking to discover if the authors of screenplays harbored Communist sympathies.