Newsletter #45 – October 2020
Historical Society of the D.C. Circuit –
We share with the country our
admiration and immense respect
for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her
life’s work, and her commitment to
equal justice and concern for all
individuals in our society. A giant in
the law, she championed
protections for women, minorities,
workers, the disabled, and others
not always able to achieve equality
before the law. As Judge Goodwin
Liu, a former Ginsburg clerk, put it,
she widened the nation’s “circle of
inclusion.” She was a scholar and
thinker who inspired young and old alike.
Her somewhat fragile appearance belied her toughness and courage.
Illness and medical treatments that would have proved disabling to most,
never kept her from her work on the Court. Often called the Thurgood
Marshall of the women’s movement and the Notorious RBG, she was
nonetheless innately shy. That shyness, however, masked the strength of
her views revealed in brilliant, powerful opinions for the Court and dissents
that live on.
Justice Ginsburg is even more to those of us who are officers and Board
members of the Historical Society of the D.C. Circuit. She was the earliest
advocate for the creation of the Society, the writing of the history of the D.C.
Circuit Courts, and the creation of the Society’s oral history program. Justice
Ginsburg served as Honorary Chair of the Society, and was a major
participant in the Society’s 2013 program, “Women in the Life and Law of
the District of Columbia Courts.” In her honor, the Society will be offering a
special tribute in the near future.
Judge Williams was a highly admired
member of the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the D.C. Circuit for more than three
decades, and, according to Chief
Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., “one of the
shining jewels of the Federal Judiciary *
* * [who] combined an incisive mind
with a gracious manner.”
Perhaps the best way to remember and
honor Judge Williams is to reflect on the
way he is viewed and respected by
those who knew him as well as anyone
but his own family – his colleagues on the Court of Appeals. Here is the
judge they knew, drawn from their remembrances of him posted on the
Court’s website,
“an uncommon love of ideas, an extraordinarily broad-ranging
intellectual curiosity, an infectiously good-spirited demeanor,
and a joyful sense of humor”
“an incisive mind with a gracious manner“
“possessed the intellectual curiously of a scholar and the
commitment to justice of a public servant“
“fierce commitment to human freedom and the rule of law”
“distinctive voice and mind – brilliant, to-the-point, and
“giant in the law with an unparalleled intellectual vibrancy”
“a true expert in disagreeing agreeably”
“blessed with a sense of humor that reduced tensions”
“cared deeply about the well-being of the planet we inhabit.”
The past six months brought
many changes to Court and
Society operations as the
coronavirus pandemic
spread. Occasioned by the
partial closing of the
Courthouse to protect
judges, staff, lawyers,
litigants, and others having
business with the Courts, many judges and staff began tele-working. Court
hearings and other proceedings began taking place remotely, thanks to the
rapid changes the Courts were able to make, the flexibility of everyone
involved, and the technological marvels of teleconferencing and ZOOM.
Although the Court of Appeals suspended all in-person, on-site oral
arguments, it continued its work without delays and held four en banc
hearings – three in April and one in August — by teleconference. Then, on
September 9, 2020, ZOOM for Government hearings began, allowing
judges and litigants to see each other during argument and permitting
judges to have visual contact during post-argument conferences.
The District Court suspended most operations in mid-March. To prepare for
their restoration, Chief Judge Howell appointed a task force to consider
expert public health and safety guidance, particularly with respect to the
eventual resumption of in-person trials and other proceedings. The Court
entered Phase 1 of a newly developed Continuity of Operations Plan in June,
resuming grand jury sessions on a limited schedule with precautions taken
to protect the health and safety of grand jurors and continuing remote court
proceedings with audio access available to the pubic. Preparations for the
resumption of in-court proceedings continued in consultation with an
infectious disease expert, including the outfitting of courtrooms with
strategically placed plexiglass and marked seating for appropriate
distancing. Phase 2 began September 14, 2020, allowing proceedings other
than jury trials to be conducted in person at the request of a party, provided
the presiding Judge agrees they are necessary.
The Courts softened
rules concerning
paper filing
requirements and in
some cases permitted
e-mail filings. Masks
and temperature
checks have been required of all Courthouse visitors.
When the pandemic hit, in-person mediation in the D.C. Circuit Courts came
to an abrupt halt. With the use of Zoom and other technologies, the
Mediation Program transitioned to mediating remotely. Now, rather than
meeting with participants around a conference room table, mediators
conduct their sessions “Hollywood Squares” style on Zoom, often with
barking dogs, lawn mowers, and children’s voices in the background. (Read
“Mediation in the Courts of the D.C. Circuit during the Pandemic” by Carolyn
Lerner, Chief Circuit Mediator)
Similarly, the Society’s oral history interviews, previously conducted inperson
by a volunteer interviewer with his/her interviewee, were also halted
since interviewee and interviewer prefer to be able to see each other’s
expressions and reactions throughout each interview. Since ZOOM allows
these visuals, it has offered an alternative to postponing interviews
Read what judges who have sat on the D.
C. Circuit Courts say about their lives on
and off the bench
The interests, perceptions, family lives and
careers, private, public, and judicial, of 23 judges
who have sat on the D.C. Circuit Courts are
revealed in their oral histories, all of which can
be read in their entirety on the Society’s website
Click on the judge to access his/her oral history:
Judge William Bryant Judge Abner
Judge James Buckley Judge Louis Oberdorfer
Judge Charles Fahy Judge John Pratt
Judge Thomas Flannery Judge A. Raymond
Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg Judge Charles Richey
Judge Joyce Hens Green Judge James Robertson
Judge June Green Judge Aubrey E.
Judge Harold Greene Judge Antonin Scalia
Judge Stanley Harris Judge David Sentelle
Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson Judge Laurence
Judge Henry Kennedy Judge Reggie Walton
Judge George MacKinnon
Click here to see a complete list of the 107 judges, lawyers, and Court
managers whose histories appear on the Society’s website.
Just Added to the Society’s Archive –
Highlights from the Oral Histories of:
James Davey – Clerk of the U.S. District Court for
the District of Columbia from 1970 until 1991.
Marcia Greenberger – The first Washington, D. C.
lawyer to focus full-time on gender equity issues
and the founder of the National Women’s Law
Judge Harold Greene – The “father” of modern
telecommunications who served as the first Chief
Judge of the D.C. Superior Court and then spent
22 years on the U.S. District Court involved in a “tapestry” of famous cases.
Jamie Gorelick – A career reflecting legal, policy, and corporate
accomplishments both in and outside government.
Zona Hostetler – From Harvard Law School, where she was one of seven
women in a class of 500, to a life-time practice of public interest law.
Patricia King – A life pursuing public interest law in furtherance of social
James McKay – Of many career highlights, two stand out: representation of
the NFL and service as Independent Counsel.
Judge James Robertson – A career spanning service on a U.S. Navy
destroyer, civil rights representation in Mississippi, law firm practice in
Washington, D.C., and years of federal judicial service.
Lois Schiffer – Rafting down the Colorado River led to a lifetime commitment
to protect the environment.
Robert Watkins – From Roxbury to Harvard and the Army, the Freedom
Summer in Mississippi, and DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, to distinguished trial
practice at Williams & Connolly.
An attorney at Zuckerman Spaeder,
specializing in white collar defense and
complex civil litigation, Ezra has always
balanced his “day job” with a number of
related activities. In his first year at Harvard
Law School, he worked in Harvard’s Prison
Legal Assistance Project, representing
Massachusetts prisoners in adversarial
disciplinary hearings. In short order, he became Executive Director of the
organization. At the same time, his six-member team was participating in
the Ames Moot Court Competition, ultimately becoming a finalist, with Ezra
arguing before a judicial panel which included Justice Antonin Scalia.
Ezra grew up in Washington, D.C., having lived with his parents – both
lawyers – and his sister Sara in Cleveland Park. His first memory of the
Historical Society of the District
of Columbia Circuit
E. Barrett Prettyman United States
333 Constitution Avenue, NW., Room
Washington, DC 20001-2866
Email Us
federal courthouse was when, at age six, he attended a Naturalization
ceremony at which his father became a U.S. citizen.
He returned to the Courthouse years later to clerk for Judge Ketanji Brown
Jackson, where he spent a highly rewarding year working for a “brilliant
judge” in “vibrant, dynamic, tightly-knit chambers.”
The Society welcomes Ezra whose service as Treasurer follows that of Jason
Knott, who served the Society admirably for six years.
– Research and
record important
events, actions,
and historical
involving the D.C.
Circuit Courts
since their
– Volunteer to take an oral history or to write an article about an oral history.
– Critique our website and recommend improvements.
Contact us at