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


Jack H. Olender, Esq. Jack Olender is the self-styled "King of the Malpractice Bar." His fascinating oral history recounts his journey from a small mill town in Pennsylvania to the courtrooms of Washington, where he famously won the nation's first multi-million dollar obstetrics malpractice verdict. Olender has fought not only for the rights of his injured clients, but also for greater inclusivity within his own law firm. His oral history was taken and is summarized by Judge Phyllis D. Thompson of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.


Hon. Thomas Penfield Jackson Thomas Penfield Jackson began his legal career as a medical malpractice defense lawyer in a small local firm. As he freely admits in his oral history, he was hardly expecting the phone call he received in 1982 from President Reagan, nominating him to the federal bench. As a district judge, he presided over numerous high-profile trials, including the drug prosecution of Mayor Marion Barry and the government's antitrust case against Microsoft (for which he was castigated by the Court of Appeals for speaking off-the-record during the trial to a reporter). Judge Jackson's recollections of his experiences, both as a private attorney and as a judge, are summarized by Eva Petko Esber, a Williams & Connolly litigator who participated in taking his oral history.


Irvin Nathan, Esq. As his oral history recounts, Irv Nathan has served many roles: as Attorney General for the District of Columbia (where he sued a member of the City Council for corruption); as General Counsel to the House of Representatives (where he successfully subpoenaed the George Bush White House); as Deputy Attorney General (where he presided over the ABSCAM investigation); and as a long-time litigator at Arnold & Porter. A summary of his oral history is aptly titled, "Too Many Careers to Count." The summary was prepared by Sheldon Krantz, a Georgetown Law professor and Executive Director of the DC Affordable Law Firm, who conducted Nathan's oral history interviews.


Judge Patricia M. Wald Remembering Judge Patricia M. Wald
The Historical Society family mourns the passing on January 12, 2019 of Judge Patricia M. Wald, our leader, mentor and friend. Her ties to the Society were broad, deep and enduring. She was Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in 1990 when the Society was organized under the leadership of her colleague on the Court, now Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Judge Wald joined the Society's Board of Directors in 2005 and served the six years permitted by the Bylaws. Read more about Judge Wald.


Harriet S. Shapiro, Esq. In 1972, Harriet Shapiro became the first female attorney in the Office of the Solicitor General. In her oral history, taken by Washington attorney Judith S. Feigin, Shapiro credits her pathbreaking career to the inspiration and guidance she received from several family members and professional role models. Shapiro's oral history is summarized by Emily Mayo, currently a junior at Walt Whitman High School, who serves as an intern for the Historical Society.


Judge Attridge Patrick Attridge served as a Magistrate Judge for more than fifteen years, where he handled a wide variety of proceedings (including the arrest of Mayor Marion Barry). But what makes his oral history for the Historical Society particularly interesting according to his interviewer, Cornish ("Con"") Hitchcock, a Washington attorney and Historical Society board member, are Attridge's vivid recollections of his practice in local courts prior to the Court Reorganization Act of 1970. On the one hand, depositions might take only 45 minutes; on the other hand, photocopies could cost as much as $3 per page. Original documents were physically delivered to opposing counsel during discovery. And, of course, far more cases actually ended up going to trial.


Robert Kopp's oral history recounts not only his thirty years of service on the appellate staff of the Civil Division, but also highlights the Department of Justice career of his stepfather, who worked for FDR - in effect, providing the reader with a fascinating bird's-eye view of decades of DOJ history. Kopp, who handled everything from Watergate to tobacco to Guantanamo, is especially reflective on the role of an advocate for the government. Learn more about his career and his perspectives by reading the summary prepared by Judith Feigin, who took Kopp's oral history (and a good many others) for the Historical Society.


The Society's first newsletter of 2019 describes our effort to develop and post articles summarizing our oral histories, notes the release of Benjamin Civiletti's oral history and the unveiling of Judge Thomas Hogan's portrait, announces our 14th annual Mock Court Program and more.