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


Hon. Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr. Growing up as a high school musician and track star in New Jersey; serving in World War II; starting his own law firm in the District; and successfully attacking segregation in a Supreme Court case (five years prior to Brown) and at the federal courthouse: Aubrey Robinson had a remarkable life even before becoming a federal judge and, ultimately, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In his oral history, Judge Robinson offered his reflections on his famous trials, his manner of running a courtroom, and his views on prominent attorneys who had appeared before him. Readers of his oral history might find this fact most revealing of long-gone times: Judge Robinson was informed that he was going to be nominated by President Johnson to the federal bench only one day in advance; and he filled out all the necessary application paperwork that same day during his lunch break. William F. Causey, a Washington civil litigator who has also held various government and teaching positions, summarizes Judge Robinson's oral history.


Hon. Reggie B. Walton One hundred high school students from Maret, McKinley Tech, School Without Walls, and H.D.Woodson came to federal court on March 1, where each argued a 1st or 4th Amendment case before a federal judge. Chief Judge Garland welcomed the students in the ceremonial courtroom, after which they proceeded to individual courtrooms for their arguments. The judges (Judge Srinivasan, Chief Judge Howell, and Judges Contreras, Cooper, Moss, Walton, Rothstein, and Bryson, and Magistrate Judges Robinson and Harvey) were unanimous in their praise of the students' arguments, preparation, and knowledge of the subject matter.

[Pictured right: Jerra Holdip, School WithoutWalls, receiving an outstanding advocate award from Judge Reggie B. Walton.]

Applauded also were the 30 attorney volunteers who mentored the students over the one-month period preceding their day in court, the teachers who assisted along the way, Chief Judge Howell,Judge K. Jackson and Executive Director Linda Ferren for their considerable organizational support, and Society Vice President, Jim Rocap, who orchestrated the Society's 14th Annual Mock Court Program.

Photos of the Mock Court program and the names of outstanding student advocates appear on this site.


Hon. Antonin G. Scalia In late 1992, six years into his tenure on the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia sat for an oral history interview with his good friend, Judith Richards Hope. Sadly, the oral history never proceeded beyond this first session. But even in only twenty-plus pages, the reader is rewarded with a fascinating glimpse into the origins of the man who became Justice Scalia: his childhood and family roots; his schooling; his early career; his interests and passions; and, at all times, his gregarious personality. Read a summary article of his oral history.


Erwin N. Griswold, Esq. Professor and Dean of Harvard Law School for more than three decades. Six years as Solicitor General of the United States. A long-time proponent of bringing diversity to the federal bench, the Justice Department, and Harvard Law (where he presided over the admission of the first class of women). Read about the storied life and accomplished career of Dean Erwin Griswold in his oral history, taken by former Williams & Connolly partner Victoria Radd Rollins and summarized by her here.


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.