United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
(D.C. Cir.)
Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Location E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, Washington, D.C.
Appeals from
Established February 9, 1893
Chief judge Merrick B. Garland
Active judges 11
Senior judges 6
Circuit justice John Roberts
Official website

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (in case citations, D.C. Cir.) known informally as the D.C. Circuit, is the federal appellate court for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Appeals from the D.C. Circuit, as with all the U.S. Courts of Appeals, are heard on a discretionary basis by the Supreme Court. It should not be confused with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is limited in jurisdiction by subject matter rather than geography, or with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which is roughly equivalent to a state supreme court in the District of Columbia, established in 1970 to relieve the D.C. Circuit from having to take appeals from the local D.C. trial court.

While it has the smallest geographic jurisdiction of any of the United States courts of appeals, the D.C. Circuit, with eleven active judgeships, is arguably the most important inferior appellate court. The court is given the responsibility of directly reviewing the decisions and rulemaking of many federal independent agencies of the United States government based in the national capital, often without prior hearing by a district court. Aside from the agencies whose statutes explicitly direct review by the D.C. Circuit, the court typically hears cases from other agencies under the more general jurisdiction granted to the Courts of Appeals under the Administrative Procedure Act. Given the broad areas over which federal agencies have power, this often gives the judges of the D.C. Circuit a central role in affecting national U.S. policy and law. Because of this, the D.C. Circuit is often referred to as the second most powerful court in the United States, second only to the Supreme Court[1]

A judgeship on the D.C. Circuit is often thought of as a stepping-stone for appointment to the Supreme Court. As of January 2013, four of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are alumni of the D.C. Circuit: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Elena Kagan was nominated by Bill Clinton to the same seat that Roberts would later fill, but was never given a vote in the Senate. In addition, the Reagan Administration put forth two failed nominees in 1987 from the D.C. Circuit: former Judge Robert Bork, who was rejected by the Senate, and former (2001–2008) Chief Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg (no relation to Ruth Bader Ginsburg), who withdrew his nomination after it became known that he had used marijuana as a college student and professor in the 1960s and 1970s. Before the 1980s, Chief Justices Fred M. Vinson and Warren Burger, as well as Associate Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge, served on the D.C. Circuit before their elevations to the Supreme Court.

E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse

Unlike the Courts of Appeals for the other geographical districts where home-state senators have the privilege of holding up confirmation by the "blue slip" process, because the D.C. Circuit does not represent any state, confirmation of nominees is often procedurally and practically easier. However, in recent years, several nominees were stalled and some were ultimately not confirmed because senators claimed that the court had become larger than necessary to handle its caseload. The court has a history of reversing the Federal Communications Commission's major policy actions.[2]

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit meets at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, near Judiciary Square in downtown Washington, D.C.

From 1984 to 2009, there were twelve seats on the D.C. Circuit. One of those seats was eliminated by the Court Security Improvement Act of 2007 on January 7, 2008, with immediate effect, leaving the number of authorized judgeships at eleven. (The eliminated judgeship was instead assigned to the Ninth Circuit, with the assignment taking effect on January 21, 2009).

Decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals are published in the Federal Reporter, an unofficial reporter from Thomson Reuters.[3]

Current composition of court

Active and senior judges

# Title Judge Duty station Born Term of service Appointed by
Active Chief Senior
53 Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland Washington 1952 1997–present 2013–present Clinton
49 Circuit Judge Karen L. Henderson Washington 1944 1990–present G.H.W. Bush
51 Circuit Judge Judith Ann Wilson Rogers Washington 1939 1994–present Clinton
52 Circuit Judge David S. Tatel Washington 1942 1994–present Clinton
55 Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown Washington 1949 2005–present G.W. Bush
56 Circuit Judge Thomas B. Griffith Washington 1954 2005–present G.W. Bush
57 Circuit Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh Washington 1965 2006–present G.W. Bush
58 Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan Washington 1967 2013–present Obama
59 Circuit Judge Patricia Ann Millett Washington 1963 2013–present Obama
60 Circuit Judge Nina Pillard Washington 1961 2013–present Obama
61 Circuit Judge Robert L. Wilkins Washington 1963 2014–present Obama
38 Senior Judge Harry T. Edwards Washington 1940 1980–2005 1994–2001 2005–present Carter
43 Senior Judge Laurence H. Silberman Washington 1935 1985–2000 2000–present Reagan
44 Senior Judge James L. Buckley inactive 1923 1985–1996 1996–present Reagan
45 Senior Judge Stephen F. Williams Washington 1936 1986–2001 2001–present Reagan
46 Senior Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg Washington 1946 1986–2011 2001–2008 2011–present Reagan
47 Senior Judge David B. Sentelle Washington 1943 1987–2013 2008–2013 2013–present Reagan
50 Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph Washington 1943 1990–2008 2008–present G.H.W. Bush

List of former judges

# Judge State Born/Died Active service Chief Judge Senior status Appointed by Reason for
1 Richard Henry Alvey MD 1826–1906 1893–1905 1893–1905 Cleveland retirement
2 Martin Ferdinand Morris DC 1834–1909 1893–1905 Cleveland retirement
3 Seth Shepard TX 1847–1917 1893–1917 1905–1917 Cleveland (associate);
T. Roosevelt (chief)[4]
4 Charles Holland Duell NY 1850–1920 1905–1906 Cleveland resignation
5 Louis Emory McComas MD 1846–1907 1905–1907 T. Roosevelt death
6 Charles Henry Robb VT 1867–1939 1906[5]–1937 1937–1939 T. Roosevelt death
7 Josiah Alexander Van Orsdel WY 1860–1937 1907[5]–1937 T. Roosevelt death
8 Constantine Joseph Smyth NE 1859–1924 1917–1924 1917–1924 Wilson death
9 George Ewing Martin OH 1857–1948 1924–1937 1924–1937 1937–1948 Coolidge death
10 William Hitz DC 1872–1935 1931–1935 Hoover death
11 Duncan Lawrence Groner VA 1873–1957 1931–1948 1937–1948 1948–1957 Hoover (associate);
F. Roosevelt (chief)[4]
12 Harold Montelle Stephens UT 1886–1955 1935–1955 1948–1955 F. Roosevelt (associate);
Truman (chief)[4]
13 Justin Miller CA 1888–1973 1937–1945 F. Roosevelt resignation
14 Henry White Edgerton DC 1888–1970 1937–1963 1955–1958 1963–1970 F. Roosevelt death
15 Fred M. Vinson KY 1890–1953 1938–1943 F. Roosevelt resignation
16 Wiley Blount Rutledge KY 1894–1949 1939–1943 F. Roosevelt elevated to SCOTUS
17 Thurman Wesley Arnold WY 1891–1969 1943–1945 F. Roosevelt resignation
18 Bennett Champ Clark MO 1890–1954 1945–1954 Truman death
19 Wilbur Kingsbury Miller KY 1892–1976 1945–1964 1960–1962 1964–1976 Truman death
20 E. Barrett Prettyman DC 1891–1971 1945–1962 1958–1960 1962–1971 Truman death
21 James McPherson Proctor DC 1882–1953 1948–1953 Truman death
22 David L. Bazelon IL 1909–1993 1949[5]–1979 1962–1978 1979–1993 Truman death
23 Charles Fahy GA 1892–1979 1949[5]–1967 1967–1979 Truman death
24 George Thomas Washington OH 1908–1971 1949[5]–1965 1965–1971 Truman death
25 John Anthony Danaher CT 1899–1990 1953[5]–1969 1969–1990 Eisenhower death
26 Walter Maximillian Bastian DC 1891–1975 1954[5]–1965 1965–1975 Eisenhower death
27 Warren E. Burger MN 1907–1995 1956–1969 Eisenhower elevated to SCOTUS
28 James Skelly Wright LA 1911–1988 1962–1986 1978–1981 1986–1988 Kennedy death
29 Carl E. McGowan IL 1911–1987 1963–1981 1981–1981 1981–1987 Kennedy death
30 Edward Allen Tamm DC 1906–1985 1965–1985 L. Johnson death
31 Harold Leventhal DC 1915–1979 1965–1979 L. Johnson death
32 Spottswood William Robinson III VA 1916–1998 1966–1989 1981–1986 1989–1998 L. Johnson death
33 George MacKinnon MN 1906–1995 1969–1983 1983–1995 Nixon death
34 Roger Robb DC 1907–1985 1969–1982 1982–1985 Nixon death
35 Malcolm Richard Wilkey TX 1918–2009 1970–1984 1984–1985 Nixon retirement
36 Patricia Wald DC 1928–present 1979–1999 1986–1991 Carter retirement
37 Abner J. Mikva IL 1926–present 1979–1994 1991–1994 Carter resignation
39 Ruth Bader Ginsburg NY 1933–present 1980–1993 Carter elevated to SCOTUS
40 Robert Bork CT 1927–2012 1982–1988 Reagan resignation
41 Antonin Scalia NJ 1936–present 1982–1986 Reagan elevated to SCOTUS
42 Kenneth Starr VA 1946–present 1983–1989 Reagan resignation
48 Clarence Thomas GA 1948–present 1990–1991 G.H.W. Bush elevated to SCOTUS
54 John Roberts MD 1955–present 2003–2005 G.W. Bush elevated to SCOTUS


as Chief Justice
Alvey 1893–1905
Shepard 1905–1917
Smyth 1917–1924
Martin 1924–1937
Groner 1937–1948
Stephens 1948–1948
as Chief Judge
Stephens 1948–1955
Edgerton 1955–1958
Prettyman 1958–1960
W. Miller 1960–1962
Bazelon 1962–1978
Wright 1978–1981
McGowan 1981–1981
Robinson 1981–1986
Wald 1986–1991
Mikva 1991–1994
Edwards 1994–2001
D. Ginsburg 2001–2008
Sentelle 2008–2013
Garland 2013–present

When Congress established this court in 1893 as the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, it had a Chief Justice, and the other judges were called Associate Justices, which was similar to the structure of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justiceship was a separate seat: the President would appoint the Chief Justice, and that person would stay Chief Justice until he left the court.

On June 25, 1948, 62 Stat. 869 and 62 Stat. 985 became law. These acts made the Chief Justice a Chief Judge. In 1954, another law, 68 Stat. 1245, clarified what was implicit in those laws: that the Chief Judgeship was not a mere renaming of the position but a change in its status that made it the same as the Chief Judge of other inferior courts.

Chief judges have administrative responsibilities with respect to their circuits, and preside over any panel on which they serve unless the circuit justice (i.e., the Supreme Court justice responsible for the circuit) is also on the panel. Unlike the Supreme Court, where one justice is specifically nominated to be chief, the office of chief judge rotates among the circuit judges. To be chief, a judge must have been in active service on the court for at least one year, be under the age of 65, and have not previously served as chief judge. A vacancy is filled by the judge highest in seniority among the group of qualified judges. The chief judge serves for a term of seven years or until age 70, whichever occurs first. The age restrictions are waived if no members of the court would otherwise be qualified for the position.

When the office was created in 1948, the chief judge was the longest-serving judge who had not elected to retire on what has since 1958 been known as senior status or declined to serve as chief judge. After August 6, 1959, judges could not become chief after turning 70 years old. The current rules have been in operation since October 1, 1982.

Succession of seats

The court has eleven seats for active judges after the elimination of seat seven under the Court Security Improvement Act of 2007. The seat that was originally the Chief Justiceship is numbered as Seat 1; the other seats are numbered in order of their creation. If seats were established simultaneously, they are numbered in the order in which they were filled. Judges who retire into senior status remain on the bench but leave their seat vacant. That seat is filled by the next circuit judge appointed by the President.

See also


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  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Prior to 1948, the court consisted of a Chief Justice and up to five Associate Justices. Much like in the United States Supreme Court, the Chief Justice would be separately nominated and subject to a separate confirmation process, regardless of whether or not he was elevated from an associate justice position. In 1948, the positions of Chief Justice and Associate Justice were reassigned to Circuit Judge positions and the position of Chief Judge was assigned based on seniority.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Recess appointment, confirmed by the Senate at a later date.


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    • source for the state, lifetime, term of active judgeship, term of chief judgeship, term of senior judgeship, appointer, termination reason, and seat information

External links