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 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.


Benjamin Civiletti: An Attorney General's Life
Benjamin Civiletti, who served as chief of the Criminal Division, then Deputy AG, and then Attorney General during the Carter Administration, played an outsized role in a host of now-famous matters, including ABSCAM, the Mariel boat lift from Cuba, the Billy Cater and Bert Lance investigations, the Patty Hearst case, and the seizure of American hostages in Iran. His action-packed DOJ years - as well as his experiences over several decades as a leading member of the criminal defense bar - are recounted in his recently released oral history. Civiletti's oral history was taken by and summarized by Patricia Shakow, a Washington attorney and former aide to Senator Jacob Javits and editorial board member of The Washington Post.


Judge Oliver Gasch: Local Boy Makes Good
Oliver Gasch, a life-long Washingtonian, was seemingly destined for the local bench, having taken boxing lessons during high school in the basement of the old federal courthouse along with another future federal judge. After holding a number of prosecutorial positions, Gasch served on the U.S. District Court for more than a third of a century. Judge Gasch's oral history is summarized by Stuart H. Newberger, a Washington attorney. Newberger is the author of the recently published The Forgotten Flight: Terrorism, Diplomacy and the Pursuit of Justice, which recounts the investigation and court proceedings against Libyan terrorists for their bombing of a French jumbo jet over Africa in September 1989.


Just released: the Oral History of Benjamin Civiletti
Read the oral history of Benjamin Civiletti -- Attorney General of the United States from 1979 - 1981 and Chairman Emeritus and Retired Partner, Venable LLP.


Oral History: Attorney Joseph diGenova
Read about the trials of no holds barred litigation as told by one of the best bulldog litigators Joseph diGenova. Learn more about Joseph diGenova.


New Portrait: Judge Thomas F. Hogan
The portrait of District Judge Thomas F. Hogan was presented to the U.S. District Court on Friday, November 9, 2018, in a ceremony presided over by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell. The portrait has been added to the Historical Society's on-line exhibition of judicial portraits with information about Judge Hogan's career and his portrait artist, Peter E. Egeli.


Meet Herbert (Jack) Miller
Jack Miller was appointed to monitor the Jimmy Hoffa-led Teamsters; he served as an Assistant Attorney General under Robert Kennedy; he formed his own law firm (Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin); and he argued on behalf of former President Nixon in the Supreme Court. His storied career is summarized by Washington attorney Howard P. Willens, who earlier took Miller's oral history.


Billy Martin - Celebrity Lawyer
In his
oral history, notable Washington attorney Billy Martin reflects on his experiences representing a stable of high-profile, "celebrity" clients. Read a summary of his oral history, written by notable Washington journalist Carl Stern.


From Clerking to Judging
At the Historical Society's October 25, 2018 fifth reception honoring law clerks who have served on the D.C. Circuit Courts over the years, District Judges Thomas Hogan, John Bates, and Dabney Friedrich reflected on the changes that have taken place in the work done in chambers from the time they served as law clerks to the time they've been wearing robes. Encouraged by engaged moderator Judge James Boasberg, they shared candid views of the lives they have led on both sides of the bench.

Judge Hogan stressed that when he clerked, in the 1960s, the District Court functioned primarily as the District's local court, particularly in criminal cases until that jurisdiction was reassigned to the new D.C. Superior Court. The Judges described how, with an increase in the number of law clerks, the District Judges issued an increasing number of comprehensive written opinions.

Listening to the judges' different experiences were about 150 current and former law clerks. They were joined by a number of judges and members of the Historical Society Board.

Chief Judge Merrick Garland opened the program, welcoming the crowd. Chief Judge Beryl Howell closed the discussion, applauding the panelists and encouraging law clerks to join the Historical Society and participate in its initiatives. Throughout the evening, guests enjoyed refreshments while renewing acquaintances.

Previous Society programs honoring law clerks featured Justice Elena Kagan; two former U.S. Solicitors General, Donald Verrilli and Paul Clement; and a distinguished panel that included Judge Christopher Cooper, William Jeffress, Jr. and Amy Jeffress, who reflected on their experiences working with District Judge Gerhard Gesell.

Pictured above (from left to right): Moderator Judge James Boasberg, Judge Thomas Hogan, Judge Dabney Friedrich and Judge John Bates


Judge Bryant recounts his life from starting the ACLU of Washington, D.C. to boat trips with LBJ. Read his oral history.


Journal of the Bar Association - October 1942
"Something has gone wrong with the world of our day" - a "strange and disordered darkness of spirit" had descended upon humanity. So intoned Solicitor General Charles Fahy in early 1942, in an address before the Georgia Bar Association. In his speech, Fahy - who later served for nearly thirty years on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit - surveyed the globe, from Poland to Greece, from Denmark to England. Fahy argued that the "depth of the suffering of these people is the measure of the failure of the doctrine of force, hatred and persecution that has brought this suffering upon them." What was truly at stake in the global conflict, he concluded, was the principle of "ordered liberty under law, functioning through the ultimate consent and will of the people themselves." Interestingly, Fahy (who hailed from Georgia) began his remarks by recounting his attendance as a youth at ceremonies honoring the Confederacy. His speech was originally published in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. See Fahy sculpture and bio.