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


In Robert Bennett's long, distinguished resume filled with many litigation highlights, one entry doubtless stands out: the representation of the President of the United States. Bennett's counsel was sought by President Bill Clinton in the lawsuit filed against him by Paula Jones. Despite the obviously unique, challenging, and public nature of the assignment, for Bennett the matter was fundamentally no different than any other. "I treated him like I would treat any other client in terms of a case. And I didn't say, 'Gee, this is the President, I have to treat him differently.' I did not treat him differently - [except] I began every conversation with 'Mr. President.'" Still, for Bennett, "[i]t was very exciting. I'd have to pinch myself sometimes. Not bad for a kid from Brooklyn."

Read Bennett's oral history taken by David E. Birenbaum and follow his path from Brooklyn to college and law school at Georgetown where he worked, on the side, for legendary attorney and FDR advisor Tommy 'The Cork" Corcoran to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington to private practice.


Judge Greene on Riots

Harold Greene, Chief Judge of the D.C. Court of General Sessions and later Federal District Court Judge, remarked on the 1968 riots in Washington D. C. to the Judicial Conference of Indiana in this reprint in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. Judge Greene begins by recounting how he and a clerk were almost engulfed by rioters near the Courthouse and then his duty, as judge, to deal with arrested rioters. He compares those events with the civil disorders connected to the Poor People's March later that same year. He argues that a judge should not distinguish between violations of law committed in a civil disorder from those committed as a principled act of civil disobedience.


Judge Curran on Crime

In this 1969 article reprinted in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, Judge Edward Curran, Chief Judge of the District Court, outlined his views on crime in the District of Columbia. In it, he looks at the causes and victims of crimes as well as the need for fairness in the administration of justice.


See the list of completed oral histories taken by the Society and their availability.


Judge Richard J. Leon's portrait, painted by artist Michael Shane Neal, was presented to the U.S. District Court on May 11, 2018. Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell presided at the ceremony. Judge Leon's portrait appears in the Historical Society's on-line portrait exhibit.


Judge Richey on Prison Reform

Federal District Court Judge Charles Richey addressed the need for prison reform in an article by the same name in a 1973 article for the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. In it, he briefly discusses the history of prison reform before turning to then-pending proposals.


Welcome to new Historical Society Board members

Serving a first three-year term:
Hon. Richard J. Leon, Senior District Court judge, appointed February 2002. Previously, a partner first at Baker & Hostetler and then at Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease. While in private practice, he served as Counsel to Congress in the investigations of three sitting presidents.

Beth Brinkmann, partner at Covington & Burling with experience in appellate and Supreme Court litigation. Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division, U. S. Department of Justice.

Peter D. Keisler, partner at Sidley Austin where he is co-leader of the firm's Supreme Court and Appellate practices. Former Acting Attorney General of the United Sates.

Caroline D. Krass, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of General Insurance, the American International Group. Former partner and Chair of Gibson Dunn's National Security Practice Group.

Channing Phillips, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and Senior Counsel to the Attorney General of the United States.

Serving a second three-year term:
Hon. Patricia A. Millett, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Hon. Ketanji Brown Jackson, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Amy Jeffress, partner at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer
Stuart S. Taylor, Jr., Brookings Institution
K. Chris Todd, partner at Kellogg, Hansen, Todd Figel & Frederick
Helgi C. Walker, partner at Gibson Dunn


Sherman L. Cohn on Court Reorganization

Congress has reorganized and reordered the courts in the District of Columbia on several occasions. The most recent of these was in 1970. Professor Sherman Cohn of Georgetown University Law School commented on this legislation at a 1972 symposium organized by the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, and his remarks were printed in the Association's Journal.


Lawrence Walsh's Report on the Judiciary

Noted lawyer Lawrence Walsh, when serving as Deputy Attorney General, delivered a talk to the National Conference on Judicial Selection and Court Administration that was carried in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District Columbia in 1960. Walsh begins with a comparison between the British and American approaches to judicial selection and goes on to analyze the selection process in the United States including the role of organized bars.


You can view "From Goldwater to Zivotofsky: The Political Question Doctrine in the D.C. Circuit" -- the Society's March 7, 2018, program -- in its entirety.

Watch the re-enactment of the 1979 en banc argument in Goldwater v. Carter before Judges Harry T. Edwards and Stephen F. Williams by Catherine Carroll and Professor Harold Hongju Koh. Then listen as Professor Stephen Vladeck, Beth Brinkmann, Catherine Carroll and Professor Koh analyze the current status of the doctrine and its underpinnings with moderator Paul Smith.


Read the Society's April newsletter and access the video of the Tinker re-enactment, learn about two other Society programs -- "From Goldwater to Zivotofsky -- The Political Question Doctrine in the D.C.Circuit" and the Society's 13th Mock Court Program for area youth, and read about the exclusion of black attorneys from the Courthouse law library -- "A Disturbing Truth" -- and articles from the archives of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.