Todd '00 Earns Clerkship with Justice Alito; Virginia Third Among Law Schools in Number of Clerks This Term

September 8, 2006
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Gordon Todd '00

In August of 1997, Gordon Todd '00 was registered for law school and ready to begin life as a 1L-at Georgetown University. A week before classes began, however, he received his acceptance at the University of Virginia School of Law, and his eleventh-hour decision to enroll at Virginia set in motion the chain of events that would ultimately lead to what is, for many law students, the Super Bowl of legal achievement: a clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court. Todd now serves as a clerk to the newest member of the Court, Justice Samuel Alito, raising the number of Virginia Law graduates clerking for the Court this term to four-second only to Harvard and Yale.

Todd joins John Adams '03 and David Bragdon '02, who are clerking for Justice Clarence Thomas, and Dan Bress '05, a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia. The last group of alumni to earn the same distinction, during the 1983-84 term, were J. Michael Luttig '81, who clerked for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger; Kerri Martin Bartlett '82, who clerked for Justice William H. Rehnquist; Cammie Robinson Hauptfuhrer '82, who clerked for Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.; and Elizabeth G. Taylor '82, who clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun. During the 2005-06 term, three alumni, all graduates of the Class of 2004, clerked for the Supreme Court: Michael Passaportis and Kosta Stojilkovic for Chief Justice John Roberts, and Allison Orr for Justice David Souter.

Todd is no stranger to the Supreme Court; in September of 2005, after serving in the U.S. Justice Department as counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights for two years, he joined the Office of Legal Policy as special counsel for Supreme Court nominations. During his tenure in that office, Todd worked on the completion of now-Chief Justice John Roberts's nomination, the eventually terminated nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers, and finally, on the successful nomination of Alito himself. Once Alito was confirmed, Todd began thinking of his own next step.

"My work on these nominations gave me an opportunity that I never thought would be available to me," said Todd. Once his work on the nominations came to a close, Todd saw a certain symmetry in applying for the clerkship.

After Alito's confirmation, Todd moved into the role of deputy associate attorney general, overseeing civil rights and tax litigation. Four months passed, and then Todd received a call granting him the opportunity to interview with Alito and his four current clerks-two of whom Alito retained from retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and two of whom are his own former clerks.

The interview process was comprehensive, according to Todd. "I spoke with each of his current clerks for a half an hour. We had a substantive legal discussion, which was great, and a real challenge. It forced me to revisit constitutional issues I hadn't seen since law school."

Then Todd met with Alito, and had a "nice, friendly" conversation with him. The two are both Princeton alums, and both hold family in the highest regard. Todd's wife, Kate, completed her own tour of duty at the Supreme Court, clerking for Justice Clarence Thomas from 2000-01. She is currently a partner at the D.C.-based firm of Wiley Rein & Fielding. The two have a 13-month-old son, Chase.

"[Justice Alito] knew there had been nights when I had been at the Justice Department, working on his confirmation with a four-month-old sleeping under my desk," said Todd. "I knew family was important to him and he knew family was important to me. I made sure to discuss the issue with him, to make sure I would be able to meet the balance of family and career." About six weeks later, Alito made the offer official.

Todd credits many of his legal achievements to the quality of teaching and preparation he found during his law school days at Virginia. In particular, Todd listed Professor John Harrison's Federal Courts course among his favorites, and cited Professor Lillian BeVier as a strong mentor. He also noted that the Law School's prosecution clinic helped him to understand "how law affects individual citizens at a very basic level, how the abstract issues we grapple with in D.C. affect lives."

"I loved U.Va. Law School," said Todd. "It's a tremendous experience, a real work-hard/play-hard school, and of course, Charlottesville is a marvelous place to go to school." While at the Law School, Todd made it to the quarterfinals of the Lile Moot Court Competition, served on the editorial board of the Journal of Law & Politics, and co-founded the school's chapter of the St. Thomas More Society.

Presently, Todd hasn't yet decided where this opportunity might lead him next — perhaps a return to government, perhaps a stint in private practice — but he does know that it won't lead to his own seat on the bench anytime soon. "It's presumptuous to think about becoming a judge. I'm a young guy and I have a lot to learn. I'm a big believer in public service, and this job is a tremendous opportunity to be in public service and, at the same time, do something I love."

And while Justice Alito will surely keep Todd busy, there's one person who will always hold court in the Todd household: his son, Chase.

"If you'd asked me a few years ago what I liked to do outside the office," Todd said, "I'd have a whole list of hobbies and activities. Right now, though, I have only one love-playing with my son. It's fascinating to watch a young mind work. Just watching him figure out a door handle, or how to open a box, everything is new."

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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