United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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 District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which is roughly equivalent to a state supreme court in the District of Columbia, or with the Federal Circuit, whose jurisdiction is limited only by subject matter.

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.

A judgeship on the D.C. Circuit is often thought of as a stepping-stone for appointment to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are alumni of the D.C. Circuit. 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, 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 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).

The D.C. Circuit is the only U.S. Court of Appeals that publishes its cases in its own official reporter.[citation needed] All decisions of the other U.S. Courts of Appeals are published only in the Federal Reporter, an unofficial reporter from Thomson West.


Current composition of court

Active judges

# Judge Duty station Born Appointed Chief Appointed by
47 David B. Sentelle DC 1943 1987 2008–present Reagan
49 Karen L. Henderson DC 1944 1990 —— G.H.W. Bush
51 Judith Ann Wilson Rogers DC 1939 1994 —— Clinton
52 David S. Tatel DC 1942 1994 —— Clinton
53 Merrick B. Garland DC 1952 1997 —— Clinton
55 Janice Rogers Brown DC 1949 2005 —— G.W. Bush
56 Thomas B. Griffith DC 1954 2005 —— G.W. Bush
57 Brett M. Kavanaugh DC 1965 2006 —— G.W. Bush
- Vacant (Seat 6)
- Vacant (Seat 9)
- Vacant (Seat 2)

Vacancies and pending nominations

Seat Seat Last Held By Vacancy Reason Date of Vacancy Nominee Date of Nomination
6 John Roberts Elevation to Supreme Court September 25, 2005 Caitlin Halligan September 29, 2010
9 A. Raymond Randolph Senior status November 1, 2008 —— ——
2 Douglas H. Ginsburg Senior status October 14, 2011 —— ——

Senior judges

The following judges continue to serve on senior status:

# Judge Duty station Born Active Chief Appointed by
38 Harry T. Edwards DC 1940 1980–2005 1994–2001 Carter
43 Laurence H. Silberman DC 1935 1985–2000 —— Reagan
45 Stephen F. Williams DC 1936 1986–2001 —— Reagan
46 Douglas H. Ginsburg DC 1946 1986–2011 2001–2008 Reagan
50 A. Raymond Randolph DC 1943 1990–2008 —— G.H.W. Bush

List of former judges

# Judge State Born/Died Active service Term as Chief Judge Senior status Appointed by Reason for
1 Alvey, Richard HenryRichard Henry Alvey MD 1826–1906 1893–1905 1893–1905 (none) Cleveland retirement
2 Morris, Martin FerdinandMartin Ferdinand Morris DC 1834–1909 1893–1905 (none) (none) Cleveland retirement
3 Shepard, SethSeth Shepard TX 1847–1917 1893–1917 1905–1917 (none) Cleveland (associate);
T. Roosevelt (chief)[1]
4 Duell, Charles HollandCharles Holland Duell NY 1850–1920 1905–1906 (none) (none) Cleveland resignation
5 McComas, Louis EmoryLouis Emory McComas MD 1846–1907 1905–1907 (none) (none) T. Roosevelt death
6 Robb, Charles HenryCharles Henry Robb VT 1867–1939 1906[2]–1937 (none) 1937–1939 T. Roosevelt death
7 Van Orsdel, Josiah AlexanderJosiah Alexander Van Orsdel WY 1860–1937 1907[2]–1937 (none) (none) T. Roosevelt death
8 Smyth, Constantine JosephConstantine Joseph Smyth NE 1859–1924 1917–1924 1917–1924 (none) Wilson death
9 Martin, George EwingGeorge Ewing Martin OH 1857–1948 1924–1937 1924–1937 1937–1948 Coolidge death
10 Hitz, WilliamWilliam Hitz DC 1872–1935 1931–1935 (none) (none) Hoover death
11 Groner, Duncan LawrenceDuncan Lawrence Groner VA 1873–1957 1931–1948 1937–1948 1948–1957 Hoover (associate);
F. Roosevelt (chief)[1]
12 Stephens, Harold MontelleHarold Montelle Stephens UT 1886–1955 1935–1955 1948–1955 (none) F. Roosevelt (associate);
Truman (chief)[1]
13 Miller, JustinJustin Miller CA 1888–1973 1937–1945 (none) (none) F. Roosevelt resignation
14 Edgerton, Henry WhiteHenry White Edgerton 1888–1970 1937–1963 1955–1958 1963–1970 F. Roosevelt death
15 Vinson, Fred M.Fred M. Vinson KY 1890–1953 1938–1943 (none) (none) F. Roosevelt resignation to become Director of
the Office of Economic Stabilization
16 Rutledge, Wiley BlountWiley Blount Rutledge 1894–1949 1939–1943 (none) (none) F. Roosevelt elevation to Supreme Court
17 Arnold, Thurman WesleyThurman Wesley Arnold WY 1891–1969 1943–1945 (none) (none) F. Roosevelt resignation
18 Clark, Bennett ChampBennett Champ Clark MO 1890–1954 1945–1954 (none) (none) Truman death
19 Miller, Wilbur KingsburyWilbur Kingsbury Miller KY 1892–1976 1945–1964 1960–1962 1964–1976 Truman death
20 Prettyman, E. BarrettE. Barrett Prettyman DC 1891–1971 1945–1962 1958–1960 1962–1971 Truman death
21 Proctor, James McPhersonJames McPherson Proctor DC 1882–1953 1948–1953 (none) (none) Truman death
22 Bazelon, David L.David L. Bazelon IL 1909–1993 1949[2]–1979 1962–1978 1979–1993 Truman death
23 Fahy, CharlesCharles Fahy 1892–1979 1949[2]–1967 (none) 1967–1979 Truman death
24 Washington, George ThomasGeorge Thomas Washington 1908–1971 1949[2]–1965 (none) 1965–1971 Truman death
25 Danaher, John AnthonyJohn Anthony Danaher CT 1899–1990 1953[2]–1969 (none) 1969–1990 Eisenhower death
26 Bastian, Walter MaximillianWalter Maximillian Bastian DC 1891–1975 1954[2]–1965 (none) 1965–1975 Eisenhower death
27 Burger, Warren E.Warren E. Burger MN 1907–1995 1956–1969 (none) (none) Eisenhower elevation to Supreme Court
28 Wright, James SkellyJames Skelly Wright LA 1911–1988 1962–1986 1978–1981 1986–1988 Kennedy death
29 McGowan, Carl E.Carl E. McGowan IL 1911–1987 1963–1981 1981–1981 1981–1987 Kennedy death
30 Tamm, Edward AllenEdward Allen Tamm DC 1906–1985 1965–1985 (none) (none) L. Johnson death
31 Leventhal, HaroldHarold Leventhal DC 1915–1979 1965–1979 (none) (none) L. Johnson death
32 Robinson III, Spottswood WilliamSpottswood William Robinson III VA 1916–1998 1966–1989 1981–1986 1989–1998 L. Johnson death
33 MacKinnon, GeorgeGeorge MacKinnon MN 1906–1995 1969–1983 (none) 1983–1995 Nixon death
34 Robb, RogerRoger Robb DC 1907–1985 1969–1982 (none) 1982–1985 Nixon death
35 Wilkey, Malcolm RichardMalcolm Richard Wilkey TX 1918–present 1970–1984 (none) 1984–1985 Nixon retirement
36 Wald, PatriciaPatricia Wald DC 1928–present 1979–1999 1986–1991 (none) Carter retirement
37 Mikva, Abner J.Abner J. Mikva IL 1926–present 1979–1994 1991–1994 (none) Carter resignation to become White House Counsel
39 Ginsburg, Ruth BaderRuth Bader Ginsburg NY 1933–present 1980–1993 (none) (none) Carter elevation to Supreme Court
40 Bork, RobertRobert Bork CT 1927–present 1982–1988 (none) (none) Reagan resignation
41 Scalia, AntoninAntonin Scalia NJ 1936–present 1982–1986 (none) (none) Reagan elevation to Supreme Court
42 Starr, KennethKenneth Starr VA 1946–present 1983–1989 (none) (none) Reagan resignation to become Solicitor General
44 Buckley, James L.James L. Buckley DC 1923–present 1983–1996 (none) 1996-2000 Reagan retirement
48 Thomas, ClarenceClarence Thomas GA 1948–present 1990–1991 (none) (none) G.H.W. Bush elevation to Supreme Court
54 Roberts, JohnJohn Roberts MD 1955–present 2003–2005 (none) (none) G.W. Bush elevation to Supreme Court


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–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, just like the Supreme Court. Just like 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 they 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.

Seat 1
Established on February 9, 1893 as Chief Justice by 27 Stat. 434
Alvey 1893–1905
Shepard 1905–1917
Smyth 1917–1924
Martin 1924–1937
Groner 1937–1948
Stephens 1948–1948
Seat redesignated on June 25, 1948 as Circuit Judge persuant to 62 Stat. 869, 62 Stat. 985, and 68 Stat. 1245
Stephens 1948–1955
Burger 1956–1969
Wilkey 1970–1984
Williams 1986–2001
Brown 2005–present
Seat 2
Established on February 9, 1893 as Associate Justice by 27 Stat. 434
Morris 1893–1905
McComas 1905–1907
Van Orsdel 1907–1937
J. Miller 1937–1945
Prettyman 1945–1948
Redesignated on June 25, 1948 as Circuit Judge by 62 Stat. 869, 985
Prettyman 1948–1962
Wright 1962–1986
D. Ginsburg 1986–2011
(vacant) 2011–present
Seat 3
Established on February 9, 1893 as Associate Justice by 27 Stat. 434
Shepard 1893–1905
Duell 1905–1906
C. Robb 1906–1937
Vinson 1938–1943
W. Miller 1945–1948
Redesignated on June 25, 1948 as Circuit Judge by 62 Stat. 869, 985
W. Miller 1948–1964
Leventhal 1965–1979
R. B. Ginsburg 1980–1993
Tatel 1994–present
Seat 4
Established on June 19, 1930 as Associate Justice by 46 Stat. 785
Hitz 1931–1935
Stephens 1935–1948
Redesignated on June 25, 1948 as Circuit Judge by 62 Stat. 869, 985
Proctor 1948–1953
Danaher 1953–1969
R. Robb 1969–1982
Scalia 1982–1986
Sentelle 1987–present
Seat 5
Established on June 19, 1930 as Associate Justice by 46 Stat. 785
Groner 1931–1937
Edgerton 1937–1948
Redesignated on June 25, 1948 as Circuit Judge by 62 Stat. 869, 985
Edgerton 1948–1963
McGowan 1963–1981
Bork 1982–1988
Thomas 1990–1991
Rogers 1994–present
Seat 6
Established on May 31, 1938 as Associate Justice by 52 Stat. 584
Rutledge 1939–1943
Clark 1945–1948
Redesignated on June 25, 1948 as Circuit Judge by 62 Stat. 869, 985
Clark 1948–1954
Bastian 1954–1965
Tamm 1965–1985
Buckley 1985–1996
Roberts 2003–2005
(vacant) 2005–present
Seat 7
Established on August 3, 1949 by 63 Stat. 493
Bazelon 1949–1979
Edwards 1980–2005
Seat Eliminated on January 7, 2008 by Court Security Improvement Act of 2007
Seat 8
Established on August 3, 1949 by 63 Stat. 493
Fahy 1949–1967
MacKinnon 1969–1983
Starr 1983–1989
Henderson 1990–present
Seat 9
Established on August 3, 1949 by 63 Stat. 493
Washington 1949–1965
Robinson 1966–1989
Randolph 1990–2008
(vacant) 2008–present
Seat 10
Established on October 20, 1978 by 92 Stat. 1629
Wald 1979–1999
Griffith 2005–present
Seat 11
Established on October 20, 1978 by 92 Stat. 1629
Mikva 1979–1994
Garland 1997–present
Seat 12
Established on July 10, 1984 by 98 Stat. 333
Silberman 1985–2000
Kavanaugh 2006–present

See also

  • Federal judicial appointment history#DC Circuit


  1. ^ a b c 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.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Recess appointment, confirmed by the Senate at a later date.


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