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


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.


By the mid-20th century, it had become apparent that the United States District Court for the District of Columbia had long outgrown its "completely outmoded and cramped" accommodations. A new courthouse was desperately needed, argued F. Regis Noel in a January 1941 article in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. Noel, a member of the D.C. Bar and a law professor at Georgetown and Catholic University, further contended that the legal community would be "outraged" if the new facility were not located in Judiciary Square, consistent with Pierre L'Enfant's original plan for the federal city. Eventually, of course, the current E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse opened in Judiciary Square in November 1952.


Read about Judge Sentelle in an article inspired by his oral history. The article was written by the Society's Communications Chair Steven A. Steinbach; Judge Sentelle's oral history was taken by David C. Frederick.


New Oral History: Judge David B. Sentelle
How did a self-described "country lawyer" from western North Carolina, who grew up trapping muskrats and frequenting hog killings, end up serving - for thirty-plus years (and still counting) - on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit? And how did he become a regular poker partner of the (former) Chief Justice of the United States?

The answers to these - and a host of even more significant questions - can be found in the engrossing oral history of David B. Sentelle.