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.
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 (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.
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.
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. All decisions of the other U.S. Courts of Appeals are published only in the Federal Reporter, an unofficial reporter from Thomson West.
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