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 four 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, an exhibit of the portraits and sculptures of 37 U.S. Court of Appeals judges, and an on-line exhibit featuring the official photographs of all the Courts of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit from 1905 until 1977, the final year of the Bazelon Courts.

What's New


Lloyd Cutler Lloyd N. Cutler
Board member Stuart Taylor has contributed to the Society's website the eulogy he wrote upon Lloyd Cutler's passing in 2005. It begins: "There will never be another superlawyer on the scale of Lloyd Cutler.... This is not to deny the possibility that someone, somewhere may replicate the dazzling array of talents that made Cutler the pre-eminent lawyer-statesman of his generation: intellectual brilliance, wisdom, public-spiritedness, eloquence, genius for grasping the interests of everyone around the table, and passion for forging consensus solutions to hard problems. But even if more such people walk among us, the political and legal environments that enabled Cutler to be Cutler no longer exist." Read the eulogy in full and read Lloyd Cutler's oral history.


Twitter and Facebook
The Historical Society is posting on Twitter and Facebook vignettes from the oral histories it has taken. Our first post: "Joseph L. Rauh Jr. recalls the battle for civil rights positions at '64 Democratic Convention." Follow us on Twitter @CircuitHistory and visit our Facebook page.


End of an Era
Regarded as a high water mark of laissez faire capitalism, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1922 nullified a D.C. minimum wage law guaranteeing women hotel and hospital workers at least 34-and-a-half cents an hour or $16.50 a week. Read more...


Did you know that before the Civil War, the Marshal for the District of Columbia was unsalaried but earned large fees by selling food to prisoners and by engaging in other more heinous acts? See Scandalous Fees


The Historical Society is now able to process online applications for new individual and law firm memberships as well as for membership renewals. To join or renew your membership, visit our membership page.


Welcome to Five New Board Members
Meredith Fuchs, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Amy Jeffress, Arnold & Porter LLP; Stuart S. Taylor, Jr., The Brookings Institution; K. Chris Todd, Kellogg Huber Hansen Todd Evans & Figel PLLC; and Helgi C. Walker, Gibson Dunn; have joined the Historical Society Board and were welcomed at the Society's annual meeting on April 29, 2015.


A Conversation on Judging Watch and listen as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Senior Judge Paul L. Friedman take you behind the scenes at the U.S. District Court and talk about judging -- then and now with moderator Miguel Estrada, Esq. You can watch the entire program, "A Conversation on Judging -- Then and Now," which was held on February 25, 2015, in the Ceremonial Courtroom, sponsored by the Historical Society and its Law Clerk Initiative.


Judge Levanthal On Display in the Courthouse
Copies of the portrait of Judge Harold Leventhal are on display on the first floor of the Courthouse.

Serving on the D.C. Circuit from 1965 until 1979, Judge Leventhal left an enduring mark on the relationship between the court and administrative agencies. Known for his pragmatic approach and friendly skepticism, Judge Leventhal pushed the court to ensure that administrative agencies had taken a "hard look" at substantive factors made relevant by their enabling statutes, an approach the U.S. Supreme Court adopted in State Farm.


Newsletter In the Historical Society's April newsletter, you can learn about a new on-line exhibit of official Court photographs; read a Civil Rights Division attorney's first-hand account of efforts to protect the rights of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead a march for voting rights in 1965; read about the 80 students who argued before our federal judges in the Society's 10th Mock Court Program; and learn about life on the bench as seen by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Senior Judge Paul L. Friedman in "A Conversation on Judging - Then and Now," a dialogue moderated by Miguel Estrada, Esq.


photographs 1905 In an impressive new on-line exhibit, the Society has posted the official photographs of all the Courts of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit from 1905 until 1977, the final year of the Bazelon Courts. Now, for the first time, readers of the many famous opinions that have been handed down in the Circuit can easily find the faces of the men and women who wrote them.