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


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."


Harriet Shapiro Oral History of Harriet S. Shapiro, Esq.
Harriet Shapiro's oral history is like a waltz, as she and the reader dance easily and gracefully through her life. Although she was a pioneer - an early woman editor of a major law review and the first woman in the Solicitor General's Office – she describes each accomplishment simply as a lawyer doing her job to the best of her ability. Of course, her ability was considerable. The talented questioner, Judy Feigin, is able to fade into the background, producing a lovely, flowing narrative of the childhood, education, family, and professional career of this fascinating woman.


Welcome to two new Board members
Honorable Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and Paras Shah, Esq., Office of the General Counsel, National Treasury Employees Union, have joined the Historical Society Board and were welcomed by Board members at the Society's annual meeting on April 30, 2014.


Schuelke Oral History of Henry F. Schuelke, III
For decades, Henry F. Schuelke, III has been the lawyer behind the headlines for some of Washington D.C.’s biggest criminal cases as prosecutor, defense counsel, or investigator. Hanafi Muslim murders, Whitewater, the Senator Ted Stevens case, Abramoff, Enron. Facts and stories roll off his tongue, such as the time he realized the victim’s fatal wound had not come from the defendant’s serrated knife but rather from the scalpel of a clumsy surgeon at the hospital to which he was taken. And then there was the time Schuelke told a furious judge that he wouldn't execute a bench warrant to bring a recalcitrant witness back to court the next day because it would result in a gunfight between the marshals and the witness's body guards. The oral history was taken by Louis R. Cohen.


Mock Court High School Students become Legal Advocates
About 85 high school students presented arguments before nine federal judges in the Historical Society's ninth Mock Court Program on April 25, 2014. After practicing their arguments with volunteer lawyer mentors in the weeks preceding the Program, the students impressed the judges with their ability to argue a case involving search and seizure issues. Each judge selected the student who was the most outstanding oral advocate, and all students received certificates of participation after which they relaxed and enjoyed a lunch of pizza and salad. Read more.


Uniting the Two Courts
Until 1952 the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court operated under separate roofs – in fact, many roofs. Previously, the Court of Appeals occupied a Greek Revival structure built in 1909 near the former City Hall at John Marshall Place and D Street, N.W. The land had once been intended for the United States Mint, and its neighbors had included public baths and a circus building. The City Hall had been seized by the federal government in 1873 for use by the District Court which eventually was scattered over nine different buildings. All came together in the new courthouse, proposed in 1938 but postponed during the war. At the laying of the cornerstone, President Harry Truman declared, "Nowhere else, outside of the Supreme Court of the United States, will so many legal questions of national magnitude be decided as in the building before us." Read more interesting facts about the courts.


"Firebrand: U.S. Marshal Tench Ringgold and Early American Politics"
Tench Ringgold was a marshal for the old Circuit Court and, like all marshals, was the long-arm of the law. But as David Turk, historian for the U.S. Marshals Service, tells us, Ringgold was more than this. He was appointed by his friend, President James Monroe. When the British burned the capital in 1814, Ringgold had arranged the separate escapes of President James and First Lady Dolley Madison in conjunction with then-Secretary of State Monroe. As Marshal, Ringgold had the enviable honor of being escort for dignitaries until President Andrew Jackson, with whom he had a frostier relationship, replaced him. Ringgold's grandson, Edward Douglas White, continued the family's legal tradition though. He became Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court. Read the complete article.

Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola

Oral History of Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola
"When grandma pours the pasta," it's time to go home, if you're an Italian boy in Brooklyn says Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola's in this warm and charming oral history. He went to Regis, of course. It is easy to understand why he gets litigants to settle and why he thinks that the adversarial system isn't the only way to resolve disputes. Judge Facciola developed an expertise on discovery in a digital age but kept perspective, saying to himself on one occasion: "God I'm the only guy on this panel without a PhD from either Cal Poly area, or MIT in advanced mathematics. This is going to be fun." And so is his oral history. It was taken by Kali Bracey.