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


Meet Herbert (Jack) Miller
Jack Miller was appointed to monitor the Jimmy Hoffa-led Teamsters; he served as an Assistant Attorney General under Robert Kennedy; he formed his own law firm (Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin); and he argued on behalf of former President Nixon in the Supreme Court. His storied career is summarized by Washington attorney Howard P. Willens, who earlier took Miller's oral history.


Billy Martin - Celebrity Lawyer
In his
oral history, notable Washington attorney Billy Martin reflects on his experiences representing a stable of high-profile, "celebrity" clients. Read a summary of his oral history, written by notable Washington journalist Carl Stern.


From Clerking to Judging
At the Historical Society's October 25, 2018 fifth reception honoring law clerks who have served on the D.C. Circuit Courts over the years, District Judges Thomas Hogan, John Bates, and Dabney Friedrich reflected on the changes that have taken place in the work done in chambers from the time they served as law clerks to the time they've been wearing robes. Encouraged by engaged moderator Judge James Boasberg, they shared candid views of the lives they have led on both sides of the bench.

Judge Hogan stressed that when he clerked, in the 1960s, the District Court functioned primarily as the District's local court, particularly in criminal cases until that jurisdiction was reassigned to the new D.C. Superior Court. The Judges described how, with an increase in the number of law clerks, the District Judges issued an increasing number of comprehensive written opinions.

Listening to the judges' different experiences were about 150 current and former law clerks. They were joined by a number of judges and members of the Historical Society Board.

Chief Judge Merrick Garland opened the program, welcoming the crowd. Chief Judge Beryl Howell closed the discussion, applauding the panelists and encouraging law clerks to join the Historical Society and participate in its initiatives. Throughout the evening, guests enjoyed refreshments while renewing acquaintances.

Previous Society programs honoring law clerks featured Justice Elena Kagan; two former U.S. Solicitors General, Donald Verrilli and Paul Clement; and a distinguished panel that included Judge Christopher Cooper, William Jeffress, Jr. and Amy Jeffress, who reflected on their experiences working with District Judge Gerhard Gesell.

Pictured above (from left to right): Moderator Judge James Boasberg, Judge Thomas Hogan, Judge Dabney Friedrich and Judge John Bates


Judge Bryant recounts his life from starting the ACLU of Washington, D.C. to boat trips with LBJ. Read his oral history.


Journal of the Bar Association - October 1942
"Something has gone wrong with the world of our day" - a "strange and disordered darkness of spirit" had descended upon humanity. So intoned Solicitor General Charles Fahy in early 1942, in an address before the Georgia Bar Association. In his speech, Fahy - who later served for nearly thirty years on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit - surveyed the globe, from Poland to Greece, from Denmark to England. Fahy argued that the "depth of the suffering of these people is the measure of the failure of the doctrine of force, hatred and persecution that has brought this suffering upon them." What was truly at stake in the global conflict, he concluded, was the principle of "ordered liberty under law, functioning through the ultimate consent and will of the people themselves." Interestingly, Fahy (who hailed from Georgia) began his remarks by recounting his attendance as a youth at ceremonies honoring the Confederacy. His speech was originally published in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. See Fahy sculpture and bio.


Read the Historical Society's Most Recent Newsletter
The newsletter announces that Jim Rocap has been named Vice President of the Historical Society, that current and former law clerks will be honored at a reception on October 25, that volunteer lawyers are sought to mentor D.C. high school students as they prepare to participate in the Society's March 2019 Mock Court Program, that the oral histories of Judge David Sentelle and Judge Michael Farrell have been added to the Society's oral history collection and are available for review, that Judge David Tatel's portrait has been hung in the U.S. Court of Appeals Courtroom and appears in the Society's judicial portrait exhibit, and more.


Judge Farrell's "Wandering" Path to the Appellate Bench
As his oral history makes clear, Judge Michael Farrell grapples thoughtfully with the challenges of being an appellate judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Read about his meandering path to a judgeship and his self-described "monastic" existence and more in an article by Steven A. Steinbach, based on Judge Farrell's oral history.


Just Released: The oral history of Judge Michael W. Farrell.
For nearly three decades, Michael Farrell has served as a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. But that was far from an inevitable career choice. In his entertaining and unpretentious oral history, Judge Farrell recounts with relish his so- called "wandering years," before he gravitated to law as a second career. Eventually, a long stint handling appeals for the Justice Department and in the U.S. Attorney's Office made him a natural candidate for an appellate judgeship. Not that he finds this role easy, even after many successful years on the bench. So often, observes Judge Farrell, "the difference between right and wrong, between this result and that result, is almost paper thin." In the end "you give it the best judgment you can and hope that you've got it right. Welcome to the world of judging."


Oral History of Charles T. Duncan, Esq.
Charles Duncan describes the trials of practicing law in the 1950's as an African American in his oral history. Take a look.


Oral History of Magistrate Judge Facciola
Read an inside view of the hiring and work of judicial law clerks by Magistrate Judge Facciola.