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.
Call for Volunteer Lawyers to Mentor High School Students
High School students from the Washington area will be arguing cases before federal judges in the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S.
Courthouse on Friday, March 20, 2015, in the Historical Society's 10th annual Mock Court Program. Lawyers willing to help
the students prepare their arguments are asked to contact Program Chair Paras Shah at firstname.lastname@example.org. See information
about the Society's 2014 Mock Court Program.
Presentation of Judge Paul L. Friedman's Portrait
The portrait of Judge Paul L. Friedman, painted by artist Jon R. Friedman, was presented to the U.S. District Court for the District of
Columbia on September 19, 2014. The portrait, and the full text of the portrait ceremony, have been added to the Society's exhibit of
judicial portraits. View portrait and read text of the portrait ceremony.
1835: Would-be Presidential Assassin Found Insane
The first known attempt to assassinate a president in Washington occurred on January 30, 1835 when Richard Lawrence,
an English-born immigrant and unemployed drifter, fired two pistols at Andrew Jackson as the President was leaving the
Capitol after a funeral. Both pistols misfired. Lawrence, who expressed a belief that he was the rightful heir to the thrones
of England and the United States, and that Jackson was standing in his way, was tried before Chief Judge William Cranch. It took
the jury just five minutes to decide he was "under the influence of insanity at the time he committed the act," and not guilty.
Nonetheless, he was remanded to prison because there was no asylum in Washington and Judge Cranch concluded that it would be dangerous
"to permit him to be at large while under this mental delusion." Read more interesting facts about the courts.
Against the Peace and Government of the United States: The Criminal Docket of 1835
When writer Jim Johnston researched National Archives' records of the 1835 trial
of Richard Lawrence, who tried to assassinate President Andrew Jackson, he stumbled
onto a treasure trove in the records of other cases in the criminal docket that year. The
would-be assassin was acquitted by reason of insanity, the first such successful defense in
the Circuit, but for others justice was swift and sure on such charges as public nuisance,
theft, prostitution, and murder. The old court records provide a fascinating look at the
more violent and seamier side of history. Against the Peace and Government of the
United States: The Criminal Docket of 1835
Now on display in the Courthouse
Before following his father's footsteps to the bench, D.C. Circuit Judge Roger Robb,
a federal judge from 1969 - 1985, enjoyed a storied legal career representing both
Washington power brokers and outsiders in some of the most noteworthy national
security, ethics, and libel cases of the Cold War era. Known for his direct, assertive
approach, Robb served as court-appointed counsel for Earl Browder, head of the
Communist Party, who faced charges of contempt of Congress for refusing to
incriminate former comrades. At the height of the McCarthy era, Robb acted as
special prosecutor for the Atomic Energy Commission in its investigation of J. Robert
Oppenheimer. In the 1960s, Robb defended Otto Otepka, the State Department
security advisor charged with leaking unauthorized information regarding
Kennedy-era security clearances to the Senate. On behalf of Senator Barry
Goldwater, Robb won a libel suit against a magazine publisher who polled
psychiatrists to ask whether Goldwater was mentally fit to serve as president. On
the bench, Robb authored nearly 150 majority opinions, including an opinion
invalidating the FAA order grounding all DC-10 airplanes in U.S. airspace in the
wake of a 1979 crash and an opinion upholding the police handling of anti-Vietnam
war riots in Washington, D.C. In 1979, as presiding judge on the three-judge panel
created by the Ethics in Government Act, Judge Robb helped select and supervise
the special prosecutors investigating allegations against Hamilton Jordan and Edwin
Meese. Judge Robb took senior status in 1982 and passed away in 1985.
Read the Society's fall 2014 Newsletter which, among other things, provides a link to the video of our latest program, "Sixty
Years After Bolling v. Sharpe: Public Education and the D.C. Federal Courts," provides historical reflections on Justice Wiley
Rutledge and the dissenting judge in U.S. v. Bollman, introduces the oral histories of Steve Pollak and Abe Krash, and
welcomes Jason M. Knott, the Society's new Treasurer.
Oral History of Abe Krash, Esq.
Abe Krash was hired on a temporary basis as the twelfth lawyer at Arnold, Fortas & Porter in 1952. He spent his career there.
In 2006, he delivered a lecture at Georgetown Law School on the changes in the legal profession he witnessed, but his oral history
itself is a case study of change from an era when lawyers considered themselves generalists capable of handling any legal problem
to today's view of them as specialists and even "technicians." Krash tells of his run-in with founding partner Thurman Arnold
over the younger man's objection to the firm's pro bono representation of poet and Fascist Ezra Pound. Arnold responded, "Look sonny
boy, you like to think of yourself as being a civil liberties lawyer, don't you? It is very easy to be a civil liberties lawyer
if you are representing people with whom you agree and whom you like. The real test is whether you stand up for people who you don't
like and whose opinion you detest." The oral history was taken by Stuart Pierson.
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 email@example.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.
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.