PUBLISHED:March 15, 2024

Donovan Stone ’20 to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson

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Stone bonded with Justice Jackson over a shared admiration for Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman appointed as a federal judge.

Donovan Stone '20 Donovan Stone '20

Donovan Stone ’20 has been selected to clerk for Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during the Court’s upcoming term beginning in October.

“I am incredibly excited to start the clerkship,” Stone said. “It's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and to say that I feel blessed would be an understatement.”

Stone was senior online editor of the Duke Law Journal, a member of the Moot Court Board, and internal vice president of the Black Law Students Association. He volunteered with the Durham City Attorney’s Office and twice led students on spring break trips to work with legal assistance organizations in New Orleans. He won the Dean’s Cup moot court competition in 2020 as well as a student writing award that year for his article Blue v. Durham Public School District and the Campaign for School Equalization in North Carolina, 1 North Carolina Civil Rights Law Review 2 (2021).

During his 3L year Stone served as a judicial extern for Judge James A. Wynn of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and took Current Issues in Constitutional Interpretation, a seminar co-taught by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito. It was Stone’s last in-person class, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced classes to be held remotely for the rest of the semester. He was selected by his classmates to be the JD class speaker and delivered his remarks at the only virtual Convocation Duke Law School has ever held.

Sara Sun Beale, the Charles L. B. Lowndes Distinguished Professor of Law, said Stone “became a star at Duke Law School” and called his writing both brilliant and powerful.

“It was truly a treat to read his papers. He displayed a formidable intellect, and he engaged the material at an extremely high level,” Beale said. “He clearly relished the intellectual engagement, and he voiced his own views with both confidence and eloquence, first in his papers, and later in class discussions.

In writing Stone’s clerkship recommendations, Beale said, “I knew he would be a magnificent clerk for any judge, and even for the justices of the Supreme Court. The only challenge was capturing all of his strengths, and his delightful personality.”

After graduating, Stone clerked for Abdul K. Kallon, who until August 2022 was a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in Birmingham, and for Judge Carl E. Stewart of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Shreveport, Louisiana. He is currently a litigation associate at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C.

Stone is one of two Duke Law School graduates who will serve as clerks at the Supreme Court this fall. John Macy ’22 will clerk for Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Stone and Macy are the twelfth and thirteenth alumni selected for Supreme Court clerkships since 2010.

Bonding over a mutual role model

Jackson became the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court on Feb. 25, 2022, and the Court’s first Black woman justice on April 7, 2022. Stone said that the justice’s testimony at her confirmation hearings resonated with his own story. Both attended public schools before college and grew up in families devoted to public service. Jackson’s parents were both educators and she had a brother and uncles in law enforcement; Stone’s mother is an educator and his father and brother are firefighters.

They also share an admiration for Constance Baker Motley, an NAACP attorney who authored the original complaint in Brown v. Board of Education and became the first Black woman to argue before the Supreme Court and the first Black woman appointed to the federal bench.

During her confirmation hearing, Jackson noted that she shares a birthday with Motley and spoke of her as an inspiration, saying, “Like Judge Motley, I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the words engraved on the front of the Supreme Court building, ‘Equal justice under law,’ are a reality and not just an ideal.”

Stone had already become interested in Motley after learning that his great-uncle, a civil rights lawyer, worked with Motley on a 1954 case she litigated in his hometown of Shreveport. In Constance Baker Motley’s Forgotten Housing Legacy, 2021 Utah Law Review 1127, Stone explored Motley’s housing discrimination litigation through the lens of that case.

Shreveport, a mid-sized city near the Texas and Arkansas borders, is close to Stone’s heart. He grew up there and stayed for college — graduating magna cum laude from Centenary College of Louisiana.

“Most people who are aware of Shreveport simply know it as a place that you pass through on the way to Texas, but I think that it’s truly a special place and my entire family is there,” Stone said.

Stone credits numerous Duke Law faculty and staff with encouraging and guiding him through the clerkship process, including Dean Kerry Abrams, Beale, Alston & Bird Distinguished Professor of Law Ernest Young, and Director of Judicial Clerkships Sara Emley.

“Really, it took a community to get me here, and I'm very grateful for that community,” Stone said.

“There are so many qualified applicants who are seeking this opportunity, and frankly, it's an opportunity that I never would have thought to seek myself. And so for it to have materialized is just a huge blessing, and I view it as a continuation of my education as a young lawyer.”

Young, who clerked for Supreme Court Associate Justice David H. Souter during the 1995-1996 term, said it is hard to think of a Duke Law student he is prouder of than Stone.

“Donovan went from middle of the pack as a 1L to the very top of an incredibly competitive Federal Courts class as a 3L. He gave one of the best oralist performances I’ve ever seen in the Dean’s Cup final because he was impeccably prepared and absolutely unflappable under pressure,” Young said.

“And he earned the respect of our entire community as a leader during a time of racial ferment all over the country — not only because he is brilliant, but because of his thoughtfulness, his wonderful judgment, and his generous heart.

“His SCOTUS clerkship will be a great experience for Donovan, but an even greater gift to the Court. God bless him.”