Third-year University of Virginia School of Law student Joanna Kelly has been named a Dorot Fellow with the Alliance for Justice, a group that serves as a watchdog for potential areas of concern in the federal judiciary.
A Dorot Fellow is responsible for conducting and reporting research on judicial nominees. The fellow then works with Alliance for Justice’s diverse member organizations — from AARP to Women’s Way — to share advocacy concerns. Kelly will regularly attend Senate Judiciary Committee meetings in the effort to inform senators and others in advance of the confirmation votes.
“I hope to dedicate my legal career to promoting racial justice and eradicating structural inequalities,” Kelly said. “To do this — to litigate claims under statutes and constitutional provisions that are intended to provide protections for minorities — is only possible with a free and fair federal judiciary that respects the rule of law.”
She said she was drawn to public service though the influence of her late grandmother, a Lebanese immigrant who Kelly said overcame racial and gender barriers her entire life. Interning at a women’s rights nonprofit in Jordan and a refugee service in Egypt convinced Kelly that she can best instigate change through public service lawyering.
At UVA Law, Kelly is a board member of the National Lawyers Guild and Public Interest Law Association, a member of the Law and Public Service Program, and editor of the Virginia Journal of International Law.
She has interned at the U.S. Department of Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Her pro bono work includes volunteering time with the Legal Aid Justice Center through the Civil Rights Litigation Clinic, the city of Charlottesville, and Women Enabled.
She holds a bachelor’s in Middle Eastern studies from Columbia University, where she served as vice president of the Class of 2014.
“Joanna is the perfect person to carry out the important work of safeguarding the integrity of the judicial nomination process,” said Annie Kim, assistant dean for public service and director of the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center. “She’s brought tenacity and intellectual rigor to each of her public service positions as a law student. I have no doubt that she will bring that same focus to her work as a Dorot Fellow and beyond.”
Kelly said her work with UVA Law’s clinics and pro bono opportunities have been invaluable. For example, with the Legal Aid Justice Center she helped residents rewrite their public housing criminal background screening admittance policy and evaluated shortcomings in Virginia’s indigent defense funding. She is also currently in the Criminal Defense Clinic.
After her fellowship and clerkships with Judge Mark Kearney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Judge Kent Jordan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, her long-term goal is to work as a civil rights litigator in the areas of housing, education and criminal justice reform.
“I believe I cannot effectively advocate for criminal justice reform without firsthand experience with the system,” Kelly said, discussing her decision to take the Criminal Defense Clinic. “My clinics affirmed the importance of listening — not unilaterally prescribing solutions — to effective advocacy.”
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.