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


Judge Reggie Walton's Oral History

Judge Reggie Walson Judge Reggie Walton speaks about being a Superior Court vs. U.S. District Judge and handling high-profile cases in his oral history. Learn more by reading this section of his oral history.


An addition to the U.S. District Court's Portrait Collection

Rosemary Collyer The portrait of Judge Rosemary M. Collyer was presented to the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia on April 21, 2017, and now appears in the Historical Society's on-line portrait exhibit. Take a look. Judge Collyer's portrait was painted by Simmie Knox.


History of the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse

Courthouse President Harry Truman used a silver trowel when he laid the cornerstone for the Prettyman Courthouse in 1950. Since Truman was a member of the Masons, he probably thought laying the cornerstone was ironic, but even more ironic is the fact that the site was once occupied by the Mason's Jackson Hall. That building was named in tribute to another Masonic President, Andrew Jackson. The history of the building and the site, stretching back to when it was patented to Albert Pinner of Maryland in 1666, is meticulously recounted on the website of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which has kindly consented to the DC Circuit Historical Society posting a link.


Welcome to new Historical Society Board members:

Hon. Tanya S. Chutkan
Jodi L. Avergun
William S. Consovoy
John F. Cooney
William H. Jeffress, Jr.
Adam Liptak
William B. Schultz
Kate Comerford Todd
Elizabeth W. Wilkins


New Oral History: Robert Kopp, Esq.

Robert Kopp "Return with us to the thrilling days of yesteryear," the old Lone Ranger radio show began, and the slogan is an apt way to introduce Robert Kopp's new oral history. He saw it all in his forty-five year career in the Appellate Section of the Civil Division of the Justice Department: Ralph Nader's lawsuits; the mass arrests of Vietnam War demonstrators; Watergate; what it was like to be at Justice after the Saturday Night Massacre when President Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor and the top two officials of the Justice Department; and the shifting roles of civil servants and political appointees. Kopp tells of his step-father, a humble lawyer at Justice, being the only one working on the afternoon of Sunday, December 7, 1941, when the Navy called with a message: "Please tell the Attorney General that the nation is at war." And he remembers being told of President Franklin Roosevelt calling a lawyer in the Appellate Division to discuss the draft Supreme Court brief he had been sent for review. But most importantly, the oral history details how lawyers in the civil service serve the nation, doing the "nuts and bolts" as Kopp terms it, and how they preserve a coherent rule of law in the United States. Judy Feigin does her usual, excellent job as interviewer and guide.


The Historical Society's April Newsletter

Newsletter Read the Historical Society's latest newsletter to learn about the Society's involvement in programs that introduced students from eight District high schools to the federal courts, to watch the Society's most recent program, "In re Judith Miller - National Security and the Reporter's Privilege," to read about the oral histories of Judge James Robertson and Irv Nathan, and more.


U.S. Supreme Court 1969 landmark case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District

Tinker Program About 70 D.C. Public School students participated in a program sponsored by the Historical Society on the issue of the free speech rights of students on March 22, 2017. The 90-minute program held in the Ceremonial Courtroom consisted of a reenactment of the oral arguments presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1969 landmark case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The aim of the program was to introduce students to the federal court system and the role of judges in our system of divided government

The reenactment of the Tinker argument took place before D.C. Circuit judges David S. Tatel and Sri Srinivasan, and U.S. District Court judge Katanji Brown Jackson. Judge Tatel's law clerks presented the program to the students, with two of them -- Andrew Rohrbach and Steven Seigel presenting the oral arguments. The students actively engaged in a discussion of the case and asked the judges a number of probative questions ranging from whether students had comparable rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, to questions about the judicial selection process and the role of judges in criminal enforcement proceedings.

Students from Theodore Roosevelt, Dunbar and Ballou High Schools and E.L. Haynes Public Charter School participated in the program. Special thanks to Society Board member Andrea Ferster for serving as Chair of the program. Take a look at photos of the event.


New Oral History: Irvin Nathan, Esq.

Judge Irvin Nathan Pulling the levers to make smoke and mirrors in Washington is a skill that sets the city's best lawyers apart from their colleagues elsewhere. Irving Nathan of Arnold and Porter wonderfully describes his career, and those levers, in his recently completed oral history. For example, although he was flattered by and accepted an offer to be deputy to the assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Nathan's partners advised the job might be beneath the dignity of an Arnold and Porter man. After he secured convictions of corrupt trial judges in Chicago, he had to bend to the will of the state's Supreme Court and promise to give it a heads up the next time. And so Nathan has woven a tapestry of private practice litigation with stints at the Criminal Division, as General Counsel of the House of Representatives, and as Attorney General of the District of Columbia. His is a career that argues the benefits of the revolving door. For those wanting an inside look at what Washington lawyers do that is different, this is a must-read.

Interviewer Sheldon Krantz is Visiting Professor of Law and Co-Director, Justice Lab at Georgetown University Law Center.


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 with outstanding advocate Erica Dugue, School Without Walls) 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.