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


The Society welcomes James E. Rocap, III, as its Vice President
Jim is extremely well qualified to play a top leadership role in the Society, having served on its Board from 2011 until 2017, as Chair of its Education Committee, and as Director of its highly successful annual Mock Court Program for high school youth.

Unanimously recommended by the Society's Nominations Committee, Jim was appointed by the Executive Committee for a term coinciding with the Society's next Board meeting when Jim's nomination will be considered by the Board.

A partner at Steptoe and Johnson and a well-respected litigator in complex insurance disputes, Jim serves as Chair of the firm's Public Service Committee handling a variety of pro bono matters including representation of death row inmates and the provision of legal services to the homeless.


New Oral History: Judge David B. Sentelle
How did a self-described "country lawyer" from western North Carolina, who grew up trapping muskrats and frequenting hog killings, end up serving - for thirty-plus years (and still counting) - on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit? And how did he become a regular poker partner of the (former) Chief Justice of the United States?

The answers to these - and a host of even more significant questions - can be found in the engrossing oral history of David B. Sentelle.


Invitation to Red Mass
Each fall near the beginning of the Supreme Court's term, several Justices and other members of the Washington legal community attend the Red Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral. "An invitation to a Red Mass" published in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia in 1939 sheds light on the origins and history of the service and its association with the judiciary.


Bail Reform
Articles by lawyers on matters that would later come before them as judges and justices can provide insight into their judicial rulings. In 1966, future judge Patricia M. Wald and co-author Daniel J. Freed wrote on the Bail Reform Act of 1966 in an article reprinted in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. Three years earlier, future Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas and co-author Edward L. Carey addressed the issue of bail reform in "Equal Justice under Law" in a 1963 issue of the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.


The Historical Society has retained Small Bytes LLC to develop and deliver a new WordPress website on the Society's domain www.dcchs.org.


The Society's latest newsletter highlights the release of Robert S. Bennett's oral history; introduces the members of the Society's Executive Committee, the recently selected Board members, and newly trained Oral History interviewers; and announces the Society's October 25 reception for law clerks and their judges and more.


The portrait of Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., was presented to the U.S. District Court on June 22, 2018. Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell presided at the ceremony. Take a look at Judge Kennedy's portrait which appears in the Society's on-line portrait exhibit.