Portraits of Judges of the D.C. Circuit Courts

The Court of Appeals and the District Court, like other federal courts, own and exhibit formal portraits of  judges who served on these Courts.[1] Typically, the Court on which the judge served and the judge’s current and previous law clerks contribute the funds needed to commission an artist to paint the judge’s portrait.  Generally, this occurs at the time the judge is elevated to a higher court, takes senior status, or dies. The Historical Society receives and manages the funds contributed by law clerks which are tax deductible.

Upon completion of the portrait, the full Court of Appeals or District Court convenes formally in the Ceremonial Courtroom to honor the judge and witness the unveiling of the portrait. On invitation, colleagues, law clerks, family and friends attend and four or five selected from that group deliver prepared remarks highlighting the judge’s life and service. The judge then delivers remarks appropriate to the occasion, concluding with donation of the portrait to the Court on which he or she served, and the portrait is unveiled. Where transcripts of these ceremonies are available, they are published on the Society’s website.

The Court of Appeals collection consists of 39 portraits, the District Court’s 120 portraits. The earliest of these portraits date back over 200 years. Portraits of 24 judges who served on the Court of Appeals can be viewed on the walls of that Court’s courtroom on the fifth floor of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse and Judge Prettyman’s portrait is displayed at the Constitution Avenue entrance to the Courthouse. The remaining portraits of appellate judges are hung in a secure hallway on the fifth floor of the Prettyman Courthouse. Portraits of many District Court judges, particularly those who served most recently, may be seen on the walls of the Ceremonial Courtroom on the sixth floor of the Prettyman Courthouse. Others are hung in secure locations in the Prettyman Courthouse and Bryant Annex.

During his tenure as Chief Judge of the District Court (1974-75), Judge George L. Hart made arrangements to have portraits painted of judges who had not provided their portraits to the District Court. As most of these judges were deceased, Richard C. Henderson, commissioned to paint the portraits, relied on photographs and accounts from family and friends to inform his work. By early 1987, the District Court’s collection included portraits of all but nine of the judges who had previously served on the Court.

The Historical Society developed this electronic exhibition of portraits possessed, respectively, by the Court of Appeals and the District Court. Graduate students from American University’s Public History Program contributed research about some of the portraits and the artists who painted them. It has not been possible to locate information about all of the portrait artists, and our research continues. Biographical information about the judges was provided by the Federal Judicial Center.

This exhibition is intended to memorialize and honor the distinguished judges who have served on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and District Court for the District of Columbia.

[1] Members of the Court of Appeals and the District Court, previously called “justices,” were denominated “judges” by the Act of June 25, 1948 (62 Stat. 991). This exhibition refers to all members of the Courts of this Circuit as judge.