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.

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Newsletter Warren Juggins served as a librarian in the Prettyman Courthouse Library during the periods 1952-83 and 1989-99. Following Mr. Juggins's death in 2014, the Society invited Laurice Juggins, his wife of 55 years, to record her recollections of his life and service to the Courts. Mrs. Juggins recalls, among several interesting stories, challenges her husband faced during the period the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, which was segregated until 1958, owned and operated the library.


Judge Mikva In Memoriam
Former Chief Judge Abner J. Mikva, who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1979 to 1994 and as Chief Judge for the last four of those years, passed away on July 4, 2016. Mikva was one of those rare persons who served in all three branches of the federal government -- as Congressman from Illinois, Appeals Court Judge, and White House Counsel. In the oral history he did with the Society, Judge Mikva touches on the important role of the judicial branch in the United States:

"First of all let me say that the only way our system has worked as effectively as it has is because we stumbled into this independent judiciary. You can't have the kind of constitutional system that we have without an independent judiciary, it just can't work. Too many times in our own history it's been the judges that have kept the other two branches from trumping the constitutional norms and expectations that we want to live up to. Watergate is a classic example, but the times the court strikes down the excesses of Congress are other examples. Other countries have tried to emulate the constitutional system similar to ours without an independent judiciary and it comes a cropper." Interview 9 of 9, May 19, 1999, page 383.


Newsletter Read the Society's most recent newsletter and take a peek into our archives to learn of President Roosevelt's clash with the Courts and what may have been on President Truman's mind in 1950 as he was laying the cornerstone for the new federal courthouse in Washington. Learn also about the honor bestowed on Judge Patricia M. Wald recently by the American Law Institute and become acquainted with the Society's new oral histories -- of attorney Roger Adelman and former Clerk of Court Nancy Mayer-Whittington. And more.....


Wendell P Stafford Now on display in the Courthouse
Judge Wendell Phillips Stafford, published poet, orator, and 1904 Theodore Roosevelt appointee to the District Court, was the son of Vermont abolitionists and one of the few white members of the D.C. NAACP. Born at the start of the Civil War in 1861 and named for a prominent Boston abolitionist, Stafford died in 1953, the year before Brown v. Board of Education. Judge Stafford's verses and speeches reflect themes of freedom and pride in the end to slavery as well as devastation at its lingering manifestations. On the bench, he voted to uphold social welfare legislation and presided over a trial that, on appeal, gave rise to baseball's antitrust exemption. Judge Stafford retired from the bench in 1931 but taught law and continued to work actively with the NAACP before his death in 1953.


Roger Adelman Roger Adelman's oral history, the most recent by a Washington trial lawyer, demonstrates why this vanishing breed was so special. Adelman distinguishes "trial lawyers" from modern "litigators" because they operated by the seat-of-the-pants without extensive discovery and legions of support staff. He counts some 300 trials in forty-plus years. He saw it all. Judge Bryant called lawyers to the bench during trials to dispense advice. Legendary prosecutor Vic Caputy attended a trial after he retired, shouted an o bjection from the audience, and was sustained. Adelman recalls having to start a new trial as soon as the jury from the previous case left the courtroom to deliberate. He was lead prosecutor in the trial of John Hinckley, who shot President Ronald Reagan. Adelman's years of teaching criminal law at Georgetown Law School pay off in an oral history that is both readable and educational, taken by Steve Pollak.


Having the President, particularly a freemason like Harry Truman, lay the cornerstone for the new courthouse seemed simple enough. But the date chosen proved to be a problem. Truman had something far more serious on his mind that morning, but he still showed up in the afternoon to do the job. Find out what occupied Truman that morning and what was left in the cornerstone in David McCarthy's fascinating article.


Judge Patricia Wald Judge Patricia M. Wald was presented with the Henry J. Friendly Medal for contributions to the law in the tradition of Judge Friendly by the American Law Institute on May 18, 2016. Her colleague, Senior Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards, introduced her.

Addressing members of the American Law Institute, Judge Wald looked back on her sixty-year career as law clerk, advocate, and judge. She compared her experience clerking for Jerome Frank on the Second Circuit to "grabbing the tail of a comet" because of the Judge's wide range of interests, from psychiatry to the Hopi language. She urged diversity on the bench - diversity not only in race, gender, and ethnicity, but also in experience, outlook and temperament. In her view, judges should "provide a kind of microcosm of the outside world in which their decisions will operate." Judge Wald's experience in summer jobs on a manufacturing assembly line, for example, helped shape her understanding of appeals from the National Labor Relations Board. Such diversity, she says, is crucial because every judge "subtly changes the perception and dynamics of a court" to provide more equitable and just outcomes.

In introducing Judge Wald, Judge Edwards reminded everyone of her stellar career: active service for 20 years, Chief Judge for five, author of some 800 opinions. He remembers that Judge Wald typically summarized a case better than the lawyers arguing it. On one occasion, her summary was so astounding that the advocate passed out. And, of course, he notes that Judge Wald was the first woman on the D.C. Circuit bench and a role model for the women who followed.

Photograph courtesy of Slowking.


Judge James Buckley Before his DC Circuit service, Judge James Buckley ran for and was elected to the Senate. Read more of his oral history.


Samuel Dash Professor Samuel Dash of Georgetown Law School recalls serving as Chief Counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. Read more of his oral history.


Warner Gardner In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt launched a dramatic legislative program to help the country recover from the Great Depression and to reform business conditions, but he ran headlong into old legal notions of "liberty of contract." The Supreme Court had fallen back on these in striking down key elements of Roosevelt's program. Writer Genevieve Beske relies on the oral history of lawyer Warner Gardner to show what was happening behind the scenes in this clash with the courts including Roosevelt's so-called "court packing" proposal to name additional justices to the Supreme Court.