The D.C. Circuit was created in 1801 and consists of the two federal courts for the District of Columbia: the U.S. District Court (a federal trial court) and the U.S. Court of Appeals. Although the Circuit is responsible for the smallest geographic area of any of the thirteen federal circuits - its jurisdiction extends only to Washington D.C. - it historically has had an outsized influence on the law as a frequent forum for litigation involving federal government agencies. The Historical Society brings the Circuit's rich legacy to life through a variety of activities including articles and oral histories, reenactments, displays and publications, archival preservation, and mock arguments involving area high school students.

The Historical Society began its work in 1990 by commissioning Professor Jeffrey Brandon Morris to write a definitive history of the first 200 years of the D.C. Circuit Courts, Calmly to Poise the Scales of Justice: A History of the Courts of the District of Columbia Circuit. The printed book is available on request, but most of the Society's archival material is online at this Web site. This includes a fascinating and expanding collection of oral histories from noted judges and practitioners. In addition, the Web site houses the Society's burgeoning collection of articles on the Circuit's history contributed by scholars and lawyers.

This site also includes three significant exhibits the Society has developed -- an informative exhibit about the historic work of the D. C. Circuit Courts, currently on display on the first floor of the Courthouse, an exhibit of the portraits of 84 U.S. District Court judges, and an exhibit of the portraits and sculptures of 37 U.S. Court of Appeals judges.

What's New


photographs 1905 In an impressive new on-line exhibit, the Society has posted the official photographs of all the Courts of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit from 1905 until 1977, the final year of the Bazelon Courts. Now, for the first time, readers of the many famous opinions that have been handed down in the Circuit can easily find the faces of the men and women who wrote them.


Mock Court Program Over 80 students from five public high schools in the District participated in this year's Mock Court Program, arguing before 10 judges from the Court of Appeals and the District Court. Each student addressed one of two issues: whether a school official violated the Fourth Amendment rights of three students by affixing a GPS device to their bicycles, or whether a provider of webcasting services to high school students violated a user's First Amendment rights by cancelling a webcast that included political and profane content.

Mock Court Program Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland opened the program by welcoming the students and thanking them for their participation. At the close of the program, Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts commended the students for their hard work and cogent arguments, and the participating judges awarded certificates to each student after naming the most outstanding advocates. The 26 mentors who helped prepare the students for their day in court and their teachers joined the students for a celebratory pizza lunch. Society Board members Paras N. Shah and Christopher J. Wright co-chaired the program.

See scenes from the program.


A CONVERSATION ON JUDGING – THEN AND NOW Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Senior Judge Paul L. Friedman discussed "Judging Then and Now" with moderator Miguel Estrada at the Society's program on February 25, 2015, in the Ceremonial Courtroom. The judges told about the stress of months-long waits between nomination and confirmation, going to "judges' school," law clerks, isolation, and the changes they have seen in technology and in civility among lawyers. Responding to Miguel's final question, A CONVERSATION ON JUDGING – THEN AND NOW "When your judicial service is over, how would you like to be remembered," Judge Jackson said, "As careful, thoughtful and thorough." Judge Friedman concluded by noting that since half the litigants before him will lose, he endeavors to insure they leave feeling their arguments were heard and they were treated fairly. The federal judge Jackson and Friedman described seemed a combination of sage, monk, and Sisyphus.


A CONVERSATION ON JUDGING – THEN AND NOW Join us on Feb 25 at 4:30 in the Ceremonial Courtroom as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Senior Judge Paul L. Friedman and moderator Miguel Estrada discuss "Judging Then and Now".


You've seen the movie Selma, now read the oral history. In his article, "Selma and the Voting Rights Act in Oral History, The Civil Rights Division," Jim Johnston relies on Society president Steve Pollak's oral history to tell how the Justice Department backed up Dr. Martin Luther King and the marchers.


A CONVERSATION ON JUDGING – THEN AND NOW Join us for a "Conversation on Judging -- Then and Now" -- featuring Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Senior Judge Paul L. Friedman with Moderator Miguel Estrada. Wednesday, February 25 at 4:30 in the Ceremonial Courtroom.



Judge Robinson Now on View in the Courthouse: the portrait of Chief Judge Aubrey Robinson.
Aubrey Robinson, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia from 1982 to 1992, had a strong moral compass and an abiding sense of responsibility to his community. Born in New Jersey in 1922, he received undergraduate and law degrees from Cornell University. Judge Robinson served in the Army during World War II and thereafter went into private practice in Washington, D.C. Appointed to the district court by President Johnson in 1966, Robinson was fiercely independent and a stickler for judicial decorum. He issued significant rulings on mental health services in the District of Columbia, and his criticisms of overcrowding and confinement in the federal system gave rise to new standards in community-based residential facilities for the mentally ill. In 1987, Judge Robinson sentenced naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard to life in prison for selling classified information to Israel, a transaction that Israel did not admit until 1998. During his tenure as Chief, Judge Robinson earned high marks and considerable respect from his colleagues. Judge Robinson took senior status in 1992 and passed away in 2000.


Calmly to Poise the Scales of Justice: A History of the Courts of the District of Columbia Circuit Copies of Calmly to Poise the Scales of Justice: A History of the Courts of the District of Columbia Circuit are available for purchase.


Mock Court Program Read the Society's January 2015 newsletter to learn about our next program, "Judging Then and Now" and our upcoming Mock Court Program. You'll also find some items of historical interest, and you can learn a bit about the literary career of Society Board member Jim Johnston. And there's more.