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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

FEB
12

Alexander Holtzoff was born in Riga, Russia in 1886 and served as federal district judge from 1945 until his death in 1969. During his prior career in the Justice Department, he helped write the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Thus, the two articles Holtzoff wrote for the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia on the Rules of Civil Procedure before becoming a judge are notable. The first was in 1939 and the second in 1940. He also wrote a more general article in 1939 on Recent Developments in Federal Jurisprudence. After his death, the Bar Association paid tribute to him in the Journal and included an article by Miami News report Ian Glass about Holtzoff serving there temporarily to preside over a fraud case. The article recounted that when counsel objected to the admission of evidence in the case and cited a certain law as the reason, Holtzoff immediately overruled the objection, adding, "Incidentally, I know about that law. I authored it."" In 1973, Holtzoff friend Judge Matthew McGuire penned another tribute in the Bar Journal.










FEB
06

Goldwater ProgramLearn more about the Historical Society's upcoming program, just renamed: "From Goldwater to Zivotofsky: the Political Question Doctrine in the D.C. Circuit" and join us on March 7, 2018, at 4:30 p.m. in the Ceremonial Courtroom for a re-enactment and panel discussion. Program flyer attached.







JAN
31

Being an active member of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia was Bolitha "Bo" Laws' path to a judgeship in the U.S. District Court in 1938. The Association's Journal carried his photograph after he became Bar President. A few months later, the Journal announced his appointment to the judiciary. And the same issue carried his year-end statement on the condition of the Bar. Those were different times. In the year-end statement, Laws urges fellow lawyers to work with the Department of Justice to reduce crime in the city.





JAN
29

Save the Date: Wednesday, March 7th, 4:30 p.m.
Goldwater v. Carter: The Political Question Doctrine Revisited


Join the Historical Society for a program on the political question doctrine. Texas Law Professor Steve Vladeck will open, describing the doctrine and setting the stage for a reenactment of arguments presented to the D.C. Circuit in Goldwater v. Carter on the question whether the doctrine precluded the Court from considering Sen. Goldwater's claim that, absent congressional approval, President Carter lacked authority to terminate the Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan. Professor Harold Koh of Yale Law and Erin E. Murphy of Kirkland & Ellis will be the advocates. Circuit Judges Stephen Williams and Harry Edwards will make up the Bench. A panel discussion exploring the status and scope of the doctrine today will follow the reenactment, with Paul M. Smith of the Campaign Legal Center serving as moderator and Beth Brinkmann of Covington & Burling joining Vladeck, Koh, and Murphy on the panel Click here for additional program information.











JAN
15

Two more articles from the Bar Association Journals:

Communists were the enemy during the Cold War. On appeal from the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the Supreme Court ruled in 1958 that regulations denying passports to Communists were invalid. But rather than expel these perceived enemies, the government wanted to keep them in the country. The Bar Association of DC chimed in with the 1960 article entitled "Committee on UnAmerican Activities, Passport Control" in the Bar Journal.

Concerns with a nuclear attack were so pervasive during the Cold War that even the lawyers of the Bar Association of DC felt the need to take a position on the issue. In "Report of the Committee on Atomic Attack" in the Bar Journal, the Board of Directors outlined its views on preparation and the maintenance of civilian control.











JAN
11

"I felt like Indiana Jones stumbling upon a sealed tomb," Jim Johnston, the Society's Communications Chair said when discovering an archive of Journals published by the Bar Association of the District of Columbia over a 41-year period. The articles, digitized by Heinonline, highlighted historical material, some of it written by judges of our courts. Many will be posted regularly on this website with Association permission; the first two are mentioned below:

Years before he began writing his popular last-page column for the DC Bar's Washington Lawyer magazine, Jake Stein wrote for the Journal of the Bar Association of DC, eventually becoming its editor. In "$100,000 Awarded Plaintiff for False Imprisonment-in 1882," he and Arthur Stambler look at the winning arguments to the jury on how to calculate damages for 45 days of wrongful incarceration in a carpeted jail cell.

Frederick Tyler takes us back to the early 1900s in "The Attorney General's Pants." When the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia urgently needed to hire a private detective to chase a miscreant but had no appropriation to pay one, he turned to Attorney General Philander C. Knox for help with surprising results.
















JAN
03

Newsletter Read the Society's latest newsletter to learn about historical materials soon to appear on the Society's website, to read or download histories of our Court of Appeals and District Court, to read Judge Charles Richey's oral history -- just released --, to learn about upcoming and recent Society programs, and more.









DEC
27

Judge Richey District Judge Charles Richey's oral history has been released some twenty years after his death, as provided in his agreement with the Society. It is a hardscrabble tale. His parents were so poor that the best they could afford for Christmas was a used basketball. In his first year at Case Western Reserve Law School, he worked five jobs, including at a funeral home, to make ends meet. He only took courses whose books he could afford. Poverty shaped him. Learn how he coped during his early years and how he overcame challenges and fashioned a career in the law in this colorful oral history.











DEC
18

Over 240 D.C. area students filled the Ceremonial Courtroom on December 14 to witness a re-enactment of the landmark First Amendment case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, that protected the freedom of expression rights of public school students. In the courtroom with them was Mary Beth Tinker, who, over 50 years ago, had been suspended from school because she and other students had worn black arm bands in class protesting the Vietnam War. Their law suit was ultimately heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the case re-enacted in the federal courthouse.

In the re-enactment, Judge David S. Tatel sat as the Chief Justice, joined by colleagues Judges Sri Srinivasan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Judge Tatel's law clerks presented the arguments that had been made before the Supreme Court.

The high school and middle school students from across the city and Prince George's County listened intently to the legal arguments and to Mary Beth Tinker as she urged them to stand up for their rights. They were eager to question the judges about the case and to pepper Ms. Tinker with questions about her experiences and their relevance to students today - questions that continued long after the formal program concluded. Photos of the event to follow.

















DEC
11

Judge Royce Lamberth Judge Royce C. Lamberth's portrait, painted by artist Simmie Knox, was presented to the U.S. District Court on November 17, 2017. Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell presided at the ceremony. Judge Lamberth's portrait appears in the Historical Society's on-line portrait exhibit.







DEC
06

Jodie Bernstein Jodie Bernstein remembers her time in front of Justice Scalia when he was a member of the D.C. Circuit. Read her oral history and learn more.