Supreme choice: Albemarle grad gets plum post


Less than ten years after leaving Albemarle High School, Allison Orr is headed for the Supreme Court.

"It was really more normal than you would imagine," she says, recalling her interview with justice David Souter. "He seemed just like a regular guy, and he made me feel very comfortable from the moment I walked into his chambers."

He tossed in a few curveballs, though. "He was trying to see how I think on my feet," she says.

Orr, who's currently clerking for Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, applied for positions with all nine of the high court justices.

"I think everyone who applies will apply to all nine," she says. "Some people who have a particular ideological bent might apply to just one, but I think most people are like me– they'd just be honored to clerk for any one of them."

UVA law professor Richard Bonnie says it is indeed an honor. He calls it "an unforgettable experience that will expose her to inner sanctum of the Supreme Court and open doors for her for years to come."

Two of Wilkinson's other current clerks are probably feeling the same thrill right now. Fellow UVA Law graduate Michael Passaportis will clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and Yale graduate Evan Young will work for justice Antonin Scalia.

It was a cold day in March when the 27-year-old Orr, a UVA law graduate, got the call from Souter. And, to hear her tell it, quite possibly also a cold day in Hell.

"It's extremely bizarre and rare that I got the job," she says. "It's like being struck by lightning– I just never expected it would happen to me."

The clerkships typically last for a year. What are her plans for next July?

"I know that ultimately I want to be a law professor," Orr says. But her experiences in law school have led her to conclude that it might be best to put that off for a while.

"Every new class I took caught my interest as a new subject I didn't know before," she says. "I guess that's why I am not ready to teach yet. I need to focus my interests a little."

For now, she's just focusing on gearing up for the coming year. "I suspect, from what I hear, that it's a pretty hectic year from start to finish," she says.

"Part of the clerk's job is reading through the briefs, synthesizing information, and preparing [Souter] to ask intelligent questions– although I don't know how I'm going to do that," she laughs.

She's working on that last one.

"I feel like I've lucked out every step of the way by meeting fantastic people who have taken an interest in developing me intellectually," she says. It's hard to do better than a Supreme Court Justice, but a girl can dream.

Allison Orr