The D.C. Circuit was created in 1801 and consists of the two federal courts for the District of Columbia: the U.S. District Court (a federal trial court) and the U.S. Court of Appeals. Although the Circuit is responsible for the smallest geographic area of any of the thirteen federal circuits - its jurisdiction extends only to Washington D.C. - it historically has had an outsized influence on the law as a frequent forum for litigation involving federal government agencies. The Historical Society brings the Circuit's rich legacy to life through a variety of activities including articles and oral histories, reenactments, 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. The printed book is available on request, but most of the Society's archival material is online at this Web site. This includes a fascinating and expanding collection of oral histories from noted judges and practitioners. In addition, the Web site houses the Society's burgeoning collection of articles on the Circuit's history contributed by scholars and lawyers.

This site also includes three significant exhibits the Society has developed -- an informative exhibit about the historic work of the D. C. Circuit Courts, currently on display on the first floor of the Courthouse, an exhibit of the portraits of 84 U.S. District Court judges, and an exhibit of the portraits and sculptures of 37 U.S. Court of Appeals judges.

What's New


Judge Robb Now on display in the Courthouse
Before following his father's footsteps to the bench, D.C. Circuit Judge Roger Robb, a federal judge from 1969 - 1985, enjoyed a storied legal career representing both Washington power brokers and outsiders in some of the most noteworthy national security, ethics, and libel cases of the Cold War era. Known for his direct, assertive approach, Robb served as court-appointed counsel for Earl Browder, head of the Communist Party, who faced charges of contempt of Congress for refusing to incriminate former comrades. At the height of the McCarthy era, Robb acted as special prosecutor for the Atomic Energy Commission in its investigation of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In the 1960s, Robb defended Otto Otepka, the State Department security advisor charged with leaking unauthorized information regarding Kennedy-era security clearances to the Senate. On behalf of Senator Barry Goldwater, Robb won a libel suit against a magazine publisher who polled psychiatrists to ask whether Goldwater was mentally fit to serve as president. On the bench, Robb authored nearly 150 majority opinions, including an opinion invalidating the FAA order grounding all DC-10 airplanes in U.S. airspace in the wake of a 1979 crash and an opinion upholding the police handling of anti-Vietnam war riots in Washington, D.C. In 1979, as presiding judge on the three-judge panel created by the Ethics in Government Act, Judge Robb helped select and supervise the special prosecutors investigating allegations against Hamilton Jordan and Edwin Meese. Judge Robb took senior status in 1982 and passed away in 1985.


Newsletter for October Read the Society's fall 2014 Newsletter which, among other things, provides a link to the video of our latest program, "Sixty Years After Bolling v. Sharpe: Public Education and the D.C. Federal Courts," provides historical reflections on Justice Wiley Rutledge and the dissenting judge in U.S. v. Bollman, introduces the oral histories of Steve Pollak and Abe Krash, and welcomes Jason M. Knott, the Society's new Treasurer.


Abe Krash Oral History of Abe Krash, Esq.
Abe Krash was hired on a temporary basis as the twelfth lawyer at Arnold, Fortas & Porter in 1952. He spent his career there. In 2006, he delivered a lecture at Georgetown Law School on the changes in the legal profession he witnessed, but his oral history itself is a case study of change from an era when lawyers considered themselves generalists capable of handling any legal problem to today's view of them as specialists and even "technicians." Krash tells of his run-in with founding partner Thurman Arnold over the younger man's objection to the firm's pro bono representation of poet and Fascist Ezra Pound. Arnold responded, "Look sonny boy, you like to think of yourself as being a civil liberties lawyer, don't you? It is very easy to be a civil liberties lawyer if you are representing people with whom you agree and whom you like. The real test is whether you stand up for people who you don't like and whose opinion you detest." The oral history was taken by Stuart Pierson.


Sixth Annual Judge Thomas A. Flannery Lecture
Robert S. Mueller III, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will deliver the Sixth Annual Judge Thomas A. Flannery Lecture on Thursday, October 23, 2014, in the Ceremonial Courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse. A.J. Kramer, Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia, will make additional remarks. The program will begin at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a reception.

For additional information contact Judy Elam at jelam@zuckerman.com or at 202.778.1803. You may register for the lecture at www.flannerylecture.com.


On the anniversary of the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner," read an article by Historical Society Board member James H. Johnston about the varied interests and writings of Francis Scott Key. A D.C. lawyer, courthouse poet, and friend of Judge James Morsell of the Circuit Court, Key wrote the words to the song while a prisoner of the British with whom he was negotiating for the release of a client. Read the complete article.


Bolling v. Sharpe Sixty Years After Bolling v. Sharpe: Public Education and the D.C. Federal Courts
The special relationship between the Courts of the D.C. Circuit and the D.C. public schools was the subject of the Society's most recent program, "Sixty Years After Bolling v. Sharpe." The program can be viewed in its entirety on the Society's website. Listen as James Forman of Yale Law School moderates a discussion among Judge David S. Tatel; Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools; Rod Boggs, Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs; and Brian W. Jones, General Counsel of Strayer University on the significance of Bolling v. Sharpe and Brown v. Board of Education as well as key public education issues and challenges presented by the twin goals of achieving integration and improving education in public schools. Listen also to Eloise Pasachoff of Georgetown University Law Center as she highlights the history of the Courts' engagement with the D.C. schools, and read the full text of her remarks. The program can be viewed here.


Stephen J. Pollak, Esq. Oral History of Stephen J. Pollak, Esq.
As Steve Pollak's oral history demonstrates, he has most of the history of the D.C. Circuit in his head and has experienced the best parts of the last sixty years of it. Steve explains how he earned such credentials as President's Advisor for National Capital Affairs, Chief of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and President of the DC Bar to name a few. He is a young lawyer at the Justice Department, manning the open phone line to the administration building on the campus of the University of Mississippi as Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, John Doar, Louis Oberdorfer, and others wait for the arrival of federal troops to protect James Meredith in integrating the university. He dines at the White House with Lyndon Johnson and hears him expound on the Vietnam War. And so much more. The oral history was taken by Katia Garrett and William Schultz.


John Roberts "What Makes the D. C. Circuit Different? A Historical View."
Chief Justice John Roberts delivered a lecture on the history of the District of Columbia Circuit at the University of Virginia Law School in 2005 while serving as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The lecture was published in the University of Virginia Law Review in 2006, after he became Chief Justice as "What Makes the D. C. Circuit Different? A Historical View." (May 2006, 92 Va. L. Rev. 375, Copyright Virginia Law Review Association.) DCCHS links to the short and witty article on the Law Review's web site with permission of the Virginia Law Review Association.