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


Sixth Annual Judge Thomas A. Flannery Lecture
Robert S. Mueller III, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will deliver the Sixth Annual Judge Thomas A. Flannery Lecture on Thursday, October 23, 2014, in the Ceremonial Courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse. A.J. Kramer, Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia, will make additional remarks. The program will begin at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a reception.

For additional information contact Judy Elam at jelam@zuckerman.com or at 202.778.1803. You may register for the lecture at www.flannerylecture.com.


On the anniversary of the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner," read an article by Historical Society Board member James H. Johnston about the varied interests and writings of Francis Scott Key. A D.C. lawyer, courthouse poet, and friend of Judge James Morsell of the Circuit Court, Key wrote the words to the song while a prisoner of the British with whom he was negotiating for the release of a client. Read the complete article.


Bolling v. Sharpe Sixty Years After Bolling v. Sharpe: Public Education and the D.C. Federal Courts
The special relationship between the Courts of the D.C. Circuit and the D.C. public schools was the subject of the Society's most recent program, "Sixty Years After Bolling v. Sharpe." The program can be viewed in its entirety on the Society's website. Listen as James Forman of Yale Law School moderates a discussion among Judge David S. Tatel; Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools; Rod Boggs, Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs; and Brian W. Jones, General Counsel of Strayer University on the significance of Bolling v. Sharpe and Brown v. Board of Education as well as key public education issues and challenges presented by the twin goals of achieving integration and improving education in public schools. Listen also to Eloise Pasachoff of Georgetown University Law Center as she highlights the history of the Courts' engagement with the D.C. schools, and read the full text of her remarks. The program can be viewed here.


Stephen J. Pollak, Esq. Oral History of Stephen J. Pollak, Esq.
As Steve Pollak's oral history demonstrates, he has most of the history of the D.C. Circuit in his head and has experienced the best parts of the last sixty years of it. Steve explains how he earned such credentials as President's Advisor for National Capital Affairs, Chief of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and President of the DC Bar to name a few. He is a young lawyer at the Justice Department, manning the open phone line to the administration building on the campus of the University of Mississippi as Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, John Doar, Louis Oberdorfer, and others wait for the arrival of federal troops to protect James Meredith in integrating the university. He dines at the White House with Lyndon Johnson and hears him expound on the Vietnam War. And so much more. The oral history was taken by Katia Garrett and William Schultz.


John Roberts "What Makes the D. C. Circuit Different? A Historical View."
Chief Justice John Roberts delivered a lecture on the history of the District of Columbia Circuit at the University of Virginia Law School in 2005 while serving as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The lecture was published in the University of Virginia Law Review in 2006, after he became Chief Justice as "What Makes the D. C. Circuit Different? A Historical View." (May 2006, 92 Va. L. Rev. 375, Copyright Virginia Law Review Association.) DCCHS links to the short and witty article on the Law Review's web site with permission of the Virginia Law Review Association.


U. S. v. Bollman: A Noble Beginning for the D.C. Circuit Court
"Rarely has a federal judge spoken so frankly and personally to the President of the United States -- and perhaps never to the president who appointed him to office," writes Professor N. Kent Newmyer in this insightful article about the dissenting judge in U.S. v. Bollman. You will be surprised when you discover who this judge and the President were, but you will not be surprised that Newmyer is talking about a case in the D. C. Circuit.


Wiley Rutledge Justice Wiley Rutledge: Court of Appeals Years - and After
In this, the second of the Society's articles from authors of books on the Court's history, Judge John M. Ferren draws on his Salt of the Earth, Conscience of the Court: The Story of Justice Wiley Rutledge and later sources. The title captures the essence of the man and his judicial philosophy. Rutledge was born in Kentucky, grew up in Tennessee, went to college in Wisconsin, started law school at Indiana, paused to teach in New Mexico, finished law school in Colorado, practiced in Boulder, and became dean first at Washington University in St. Louis and then at the University of Iowa College of Law. He was appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt to the court that became the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit and was later elevated to the Supreme Court. Rutledge's opinions on both courts reflected his roots, striving for fair outcomes and upholding individual rights. Ferren's book does justice to this justice, and so does his new article.


Newsletter 20 The Society's July 2014 Newsletter is on line
Read about the Society's program on public education and the federal courts in D.C. and its upcoming Law Clerk Initiative featuring Justice Elena Kagan. Learn about the exploits of an unusual U.S. Marshal and Judge Stephens' relationship with the New Dealers. Access the oral histories of Judge John M. Facciola, Henry F. Schuelke, III, and Harriet S. Shapiro, and more.


Judge Greene's Portrait Now on display in the Courthouse
Judge Harold H. Greene's role in breaking up the AT&T monopoly is credited by many with laying the foundation for the rapid development of the U.S. telecommunications industry. Judge Greene and his family fled the Nazi regime in 1943. Upon becoming a naturalized citizen in the United States, he enlisted in the Army and returned to Allied-occupied Germany. Judge Greene finished first in his class at George Washington University Law School and thereafter clerked for Judge Clark on the D.C. Circuit. He then worked in the Civil Rights Division of Department of Justice and helped author the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making the crucial decision to base the Act on congressional authority under the Commerce Clause, which made it more resistant to legal challenge. He also helped draft the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Judge Greene was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Carter in 1978. On his first day on the bench, he inherited the antitrust case that ultimately broke up AT&T's monopoly, giving rise to seven "baby bell" companies and forever changing the telecom industry. In 1990, Judge Greene ordered former President Reagan to provide testimony in the trial of National Security Advisor John Poindexter for his participation in the Iran-Contra Affair. This was the first time a president was compelled to testify regarding events during his administration, and President Reagan's eight hours of testimony were his first public statements on the events. Judge Greene took senior status in 1995 and passed away in 2000.


Bolling v. Sharpe Please join us on Thursday, June 19, for "Sixty Years After Bolling v. Sharpe: Public Education and the D.C. Federal Courts."
The special relationship between the D.C. federal courts and public education will be the focus of the Society's June 19 program. Panelists include the Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools, Kaya Henderson, and Judge David Tatel of the D.C. Circuit. The program will be begin at 4:30 p.m. in the Ceremonial Courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse. Everyone is welcome. See flyer for additional information.


Judge Stephens Judge Harold M. Stephens
Although Judge Harold M. Stephens was appointed to the D. C. Circuit by President Franklin Roosevelt, parts of the New Deal bothered him. In particular, he worried that the new administrative agencies were being given judicial functions traditionally handled by the courts. But surprisingly, Stephens opposed the Walter-Logan bill, which would have put the agencies on a judicial leash, and worked behind the scenes for a veto. Ron Krock explains why in his article: "Strange Bedfellows: Judge Harold M. Stephens and the New Dealers in the Age of Administrative Law Reform."