History of the Courts2020-12-07T13:56:55-05:00

The History of the D.C. Circuit Courts

1952

1952

The Courthouses

The for first 20 years of the D.C. Circuit, judges held court in taverns, hotels, homes, and, when possible, in the Supreme Court chamber in the Capitol.

1952

  • On June 2, 1952, the Supreme Court decided in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, that President Truman's seizure of most of the nation's steel mills to avert a nation-wide strike of steelworkers and keep the mills operating during the Korean War was an unauthorized, unconstitutional executive action that could not stand. The steel companies presented their claims initially to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which ruled against the Government on all points and issued a preliminary injunction.

The Steel Seizure Case in Historical Perspective

On June 2, 1952, the Supreme Court decided in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, that President Truman's seizure of most of the nation's steel mills to avert a nation-wide strike of steelworkers and keep the mills operating during the Korean War was an unauthorized, unconstitutional executive action that could not stand. The steel companies presented their claims initially to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which ruled against the Government on all points and issued a preliminary injunction.

1953

Reminiscences of an Old-Time Washington Lawyer

Courts and judges cannot be separated from the communities in which they are located and the lawyers who appear before them. In "Reminiscences of an Old-Time Washington Lawyer" published in this 1953 article in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, lawyer Grant W. Wiprud recounts memories of a lawyer, who preferred to remain anonymous, had about the city and courts stretching back to the end of the Civil War.

1954

Sixty Years After Bolling v. Sharpe: Public Education and the D.C. Federal Courts

Listen as James Forman of Yale Law School moderates a discussion 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.

1954

  • Five African-American schoolchildren filed suit to challenge segregation as unlawful. The Supreme Court heard the case together with Brown v. Board of Education.

In School, 1954

Five African-American schoolchildren filed suit to challenge segregation as unlawful. The Supreme Court heard the case together with Brown v. Board of Education.

1955

The D.C. Circuit in the McCarthy Era: United States v. Lattimore

A ruling in the mid 1950's by a federal judge in the D.C. Circuit almost single-handedly started turning the judicial tide against the "red scare" generated by Senator Joseph McCarthy and others, according to a panel presented by the Historical Society of the D.C. Circuit in May 2011.

1956

1957

Jimmy Hoffa

Find out about the 1957 trial of Jimmy Hoffa, Vice President of the Teamsters Union and a reputed mobster.

  • Following presentation of the tape of the argument he made in Mallory v. United States before the U.S. Supreme Court, District Judge William B. Bryant talked about his experiences in preparing for the argument and in its presentation.

Mallory v. United States

Following presentation of the tape of the argument he made in Mallory v. United States before the U.S. Supreme Court, District Judge William B. Bryant talked about his experiences in preparing for the argument and in its presentation.

1958

  • The House Committee on Un-American Activities held hearings on communist activity in the United States, calling PulitzerPrize-winning playwright Arthur Miller to testify about his attendance at Communist party meetings.

Arthur Miller, 1958

The House Committee on Un-American Activities held hearings on communist activity in the United States, calling PulitzerPrize-winning playwright Arthur Miller to testify about his attendance at Communist party meetings.

1958

1959

1960

1961

1962

1962

A Fortuitous Blackball

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy intended to elevate a federal judge in Louisiana, J. Skelly Wright, to the U.S Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. When Louisiana's U.S. Senators moved to block the nomination, the President named Wright to the D.C. Circuit instead.

1962

The Repossessed Stereo That Struck the Conscience of the Court

In a case from Washington, D.C., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit drew national attention 50 years ago for its strong voice for consumer protection. In 1962, when Ora Lee Williams, an uneducated mother of seven, defaulted on an installment contract for a stereo she had purchased for $515 (leaving $ 164 not yet paid) from the Walker-Thomas furniture store at 7th & M Streets, N.W., the company came to the Court of General Sessions to repossess not only the stereo but -- under a fine-print, lengthy contract -- all the items she had purchased from the store since 1957.

1966

1966

Bail Reform

Articles by lawyers on matters that would later come before them as judges and justices can provide insight into their judicial rulings. In 1966, future judge Patricia M. Wald and co-author Daniel J. Freed wrote on the Bail Reform Act of 1966 in an article reprinted in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

1966

1968

Judge Greene on Riots

Harold Greene, Chief Judge of the D.C. Court of General Sessions and later Federal District Court Judge, remarked on the 1968 riots in Washington D. C. to the Judicial Conference of Indiana in this reprint in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

1969

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District Video

Over 240 students came to the Courthouse in December to watch the re-enactment of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case involving high school students' free speech rights.

1969

Judge Curran on Crime

Judge Edward Curran, Chief Judge of the District Court, outlined his views on crime in the District of Columbia in this 1969 article reprinted in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

1970

Review of Agency Rules in the D.C. Circuit: Back to the Future?

In the 1970's influential judges on the D.C. Circuit engaged in a well-publicized debate about the appropriate scope of judicial review of federal agency rulemaking.

1970

1970

Paul Warnke on the Ideological Divide of the Vietnam Era

Writer Genevieve Beske relies on the oral history of lawyer Paul Warnke, General Counsel and Assistant Secretary in the Defense Department during this period, and tells about his recounting of the bureaucratic casualties from "friendly-fire" in one of America's most controversial periods.

Warner Gardner and the Court-Packing Plan

Writer Genevieve Beske relies on the oral history of lawyer Warner Gardner to show what was happening behind the scenes in this clash with the courts including Roosevelt's so-called "court packing" proposal to name additional justices to the Supreme Court.

1971

  • The EPA is charged with enforcement of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other federal environmental statutes. On reviewing final regulatory actions, the D.C. Circuit regularly grapples with complex statutory, scientific, and technical issues.

The Environment

The EPA is charged with enforcement of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other federal environmental statutes. On reviewing final regulatory actions, the D.C. Circuit regularly grapples with complex statutory, scientific, and technical issues.

Panel Discussion on The Pentagon Papers: Did the Courts Get it Right?

Attorneys directly involved in the Pentagon Papers cases and law professors who have written about the cases talked with moderator Carl Stern about their experiences in a panel discussion sponsored by the Historical Society on November 30, 2006.

1971

1971

1972

The Watergate Burglary

Five men were arrested while attempting to burglarize the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex. They were put on trial before Judge John Sirica.

1972

Lawrence Walsh’s Report on the Judiciary

Noted lawyer Lawrence Walsh, when serving as Deputy Attorney General, delivered a talk to the National Conference on Judicial Selection and Court Administration that was carried in the Journal of the Bar Association of the District Columbia.

1973

  • A shift in appointments was part of the fallout of President Nixon's refusal to turn his secret tapes over voluntarily. Read the original subpoena for these tapes.

The Nixon Tapes

A shift in appointments was part of the fallout of President Nixon's refusal to turn his secret tapes over voluntarily. Read the original subpoena for these tapes.

Who Solved Watergate? A Panel Discussion

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Historical Society presented a program at the D.C. Circuit's Judicial Conference on June 9, 2010. Panelists, all active participants in the Watergate drama, probed the conflicts, tensions and personalities of the individuals who, and institutions that, played a role in the Watergate events.

1973

1973

Judge Richey on Prison Reform

Federal District Court Judge Charles Richey addressed the need for prison reform in an article by the same name in a 1973 article for the Journal of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

Sherman L. Cohn on Court Reorganization

Professor Sherman Cohn commented on Congress' reorganization and reorder of the courts at a 1972 symposium organized by the Bar Association of DC. Congress has reorganized and reordered the courts in the District of Columbia on several occasions. The most recent of these was in 1970.

1973

Judge Holtzoff on Federal Rules

Judge Holtzoff was born in Riga, Russia in 1886 and served as federal district judge from 1945 until his death in 1969. During his prior career in the Justice Department, he helped write the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Report on Atomic Attack

Concerns with a nuclear attack were so pervasive during the Cold War that even the lawyers of the Bar Association of DC felt the need to take a position on the issue.

1974

1974

Judge Gerhard Gesell and Pearl Harbor’s Wake

Judge Gerhard Gesell was no stranger to the spotlight by the time he presided over the Watergate Seven trials in 1974. Decades earlier, as a young lawyer in Washington D.C., he participated in the controversial post-war congressional inquiry into who was at fault for allowing the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor.

1975

1976

In Flight, 1976

Female employees sued Northwest Airlines alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

The Watergate Cover-Up Trial – A Panel Discussion

Nearly 30 years after the jury returned its verdict finding President Nixon's closest advisors guilty of obstruction of justice, the key participants in that historic trial came together for the first time since the trial to discuss its historic significance and the lessons learned.

1977

1978

  • The FERC regulates the interstate transmission of natural gas, electricity, and other forms of energy, with issues that range from complex ratemaking questions, to pipeline construction and placement, to market structure.

Energy

The FERC regulates the interstate transmission of natural gas, electricity, and other forms of energy, with issues that range from complex ratemaking questions, to pipeline construction and placement, to market structure.

  • For decades, AT&T owned the phone inside the home; wiring inside the home; and nationwide complex of wires, cables, and switches that made up the network. They were later charged with unlawfully monopolizing the manufacture of telephone equipment and the provision of long distance telephone service.

The Era of “Ma Bell”

For decades, AT&T owned the phone inside the home; wiring inside the home; and nationwide complex of wires, cables, and switches that made up the network. They were later charged with unlawfully monopolizing the manufacture of telephone equipment and the provision of long distance telephone service.

1979

Panel Discussion on The Landmark AT&T Divestiture Case and its Economic and Regulatory Repercussions

On May 4, 2006, the Historical Society put on another in its series of panel discussions on historic cases that were heard in the D.C. Circuit Courts: The Landmark AT&T Divestiture Case and its Economic and Regulatory Repercussions.

1980

The Gentleman Lawyer: David Isbell

Anyone who worked with, or against, David Isbell would likely say the same thing: a fine lawyer and, above all else, a gentleman. Isbell was a long-time partner with the law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington D.C.

1981

1981

Jodie Bernstein: The Efficient Leader

Jodie Bernstein, chair of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians that recommended reparations to Japanese Americans interned during World War II, is perhaps one of the best examples of efficiency and assertiveness under pressure.

1982

1984

1984

The Historical Society Revisits The Chevron Doctrine

On June 13, the Society took a retrospective look at the Chevron Doctrine, 35 years old this year. The program, the first of the newly announced “Judge Patricia M. Wald Programs on Life and Law in the Courts of the D.C. Circuit,” featured a re-enactment of the arguments over EPA’s interpretation of an ambiguous provision of the Clean Air Act presented in NRDC v. Gorsuch, 685 F .2d 718 (1982).

1985

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.

1986

  • In the fall of 1986, the Senate and House convened special committees to investigate covert sales of U.S. arms to Iran and the diversion of proceeds to fund rebel groups in Nicaragua.

Iran-Contra, 1986

In the fall of 1986, the Senate and House convened special committees to investigate covert sales of U.S. arms to Iran and the diversion of proceeds to fund rebel groups in Nicaragua.

1987

The Contribution of the D.C. Circuit to Administrative Law

Read about the contribution of the DC Circuit to Administrative Law, with keynote speaker Judge Patricia Wald and contributors Professor Jeremy Rabkin, Lloyd Cutler and Paul Verkuil.

1988

Separation of Powers and the Independent Counsel: Morrison v. Olson Revisited

A reenactment of the D.C. Circuit argument in Morrison v. Olson on October 28, 2015. Senior Judge Laurence Silberman presided over the argument, with Theodore B. Olson (representing himself) and Catherine E. Stetson (representing the Independent Counsel).

1988

Life in the Trenches

Think a trial judge's job is mainly to ride herd on what happens in the courtroom? Think again. In the Iran-Contra case, lawyers for Oliver North filed over 100 motions before the trial even began, and the judge, U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell, was obliged to issue 193 separate written opinions before a verdict was reached.

1989

  • Attorneys and journalists who were there, playing lead roles in Iran-Contra, were the featured panelists in the first of the Society's "Historic Cases" panels on December 3, 2003. Discussing the roles, activities, and perspectives that the three branches of government and the press played during Iran-Contra, panelists revealed what went on in front of, and behind, the cameras, shedding new light on a complex matter that captured the attention of prosecutors, courts and the public in the late 1980's.

Iran-Contra

Attorneys and journalists who were there, playing lead roles in Iran-Contra, were the featured panelists in the first of the Society's "Historic Cases" panels on December 3, 2003. Discussing the roles, activities, and perspectives that the three branches of government and the press played during Iran-Contra, panelists revealed what went on in front of, and behind, the cameras, shedding new light on a complex matter that captured the attention of prosecutors, courts and the public in the late 1980's.

1992

1995

Madness or Badness: Duran and the Evolution of the Insanity Defense in the D.C. Circuit

During this April 2012 program, University of Pennsylvania professor Stephen J. Morse described the insanity defense as giving legal life to the moral values of fairness and responsibility that the Supreme Court should uphold as a constitutional right.

1997

1998

  • The Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against software giant Microsoft in the District Court for the District of Columbia alleging Microsoft’s “Windows” program dominated the market for “Operating Systems,” and used its dominance in that market to destroy competition in markets for other software.

Technology

The Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against software giant Microsoft in the District Court for the District of Columbia alleging Microsoft’s “Windows” program dominated the market for “Operating Systems,” and used its dominance in that market to destroy competition in markets for other software.

1998

The Art of Cross-Examination: Historical and Current Perspectives

On July 26, 2006, the Historical Society staged a reenactment of the cross examination of a government witness from the Independent Counsel prosecution of former Secretary of Agriculture, Michael Espy. The Honorable James Robertson presided over this unique program and moderated a discussion among the participants afterward on the art of cross examination and the unusual challenges presented by the Espy trial.

2000

John D. Aldock, a Master of Reinvention

John Aldock

This career filled with adventure began by clerking for D.C. District Judge Luther Youngdahl, who he describes as looking like "God in the Sistine Chapel." In Aldock's telling, Youngdahl is larger than life.

2000

From Tyler TX to the White House: Harry C. McPherson

Harry C. McPherson

Harry McPherson was a prototypical Washington lawyer. Born in Tyler, Texas and educated at Southern Methodist University, the University of the South, and the University of Texas Law School, he landed his first job in Washington in 1956 with, not surprisingly, Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson.

Now On Exhibit:
The History of the Courts of the D.C. Circuit

History of the Courts

Created amidst the controversy over President John Adams’s appointment of the so-called “Midnight Judges,” the Courts of the District of Columbia Circuit have been transformed and transformative over the two centuries of their existence.

Visit the exhibit to learn how the D.C. Circuit Courts were formed and the challenges overcome in their creation.

visit the exhibit

Calmly to Poise The Scales of Justice:
A History of the Courts of the D.C. Circuit

Purchase the book now for $30

or send a check to:

The Historical Society of the D.C. Circuit
Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse
333 Constitution Ave NW, Room 4714
Washington, D.C.  20001

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