PUBLISHED:January 04, 2011

Sarah Campbell JD/MPP '09 bound for Supreme Court clerkship

Justice Samuel A. Alito has selected Sarah Campbell ’09 as a clerk for the next Supreme Court term. She will begin her clerkship in July.

When the justice called to offer her the post after Thanksgiving, he told Campbell she could take some time to consider it. “I told him I didn’t need time to think about it; I accepted immediately,” says Campbell, who is currently a litigator at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C. Campbell previously served as clerk for Judge William H. Pryor Jr. on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Birmingham, Ala.

“I was honored to receive the offer. To work for a year for a Supreme Court justice — especially one for whom I have such respect and admiration — is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Campbell said.

James Coleman, the John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law and co-director of the Appellate Litigation Clinic, described the Rogersville, Tenn., native as an “outstanding young lawyer who is well-prepared for whatever she decides to pursue.”

Coleman recalled Campbell’s argument — as a 3L — on behalf of Peter Atherton, a Washington, D.C., resident who challenged his dismissal from a D.C. Superior Court grand jury. Campbell, who was enrolled in Duke Law’s Appellate Litigation Clinic at the time, was selected from her team to present the brief for the unusual case in which Atherton claimed his dismissal was a violation of his civil rights. Afterwards, Judge Brett Kavanaugh called her performance “superb.”

“The circumstances of the case would have been daunting even for a seasoned lawyer. Sarah handled it like a seasoned professional,” Coleman said.

“I liked being on my feet. I also enjoyed the challenge of crafting arguments and persuading a judge,” Campbell said of the argument, noting that it was a key factor — along with Moot Court and work on the Duke Law Journal — that confirmed her interest in litigation as a career. But the argument was, she added, a team effort.

“During the weeks leading up to the argument, I met regularly with other team members who peppered me with questions and helped me think through the best way to answer them. If it wasn’t for those moots with my fellow students, I wouldn’t have been nearly as prepared. Every question I got during the argument was one my colleagues had put to me.”

A graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Campbell pursued dual degrees in public policy and law at Duke. She initially planned to pursue a career in public policy, but soon changed her mind. “From day one at the Law School, I knew law was the right career fit for me,” she said. “I enjoyed the intellectual exchange among students and the analytical thinking that law school requires. I quickly decided that I wanted to be a litigator.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Law School,” she added. “My peers were incredibly bright and down-to-earth, and my professors created a caring environment that made it easy for students to excel.” Campbell, who was elected by her JD classmates to speak on their behalf at their May 2009 hooding ceremony, said she is also grateful to the donors who made it possible for her to attend Duke Law as a Mordecai Scholar.

“Their generosity opened doors to opportunities I would never have thought possible just a few years ago,” she said.

Following graduation, Campbell and her husband, Scott, moved to Birmingham for her clerkship with Judge Pryor. “I loved everything about clerking,” she said. “I wrote bench memos to provide a summary of the case for the judge and to recommend an outcome. Before writing a memo, I read all the briefs submitted for the case and conducted independent research to understand the relevant area of law. After the memos were prepared, I would discuss the cases with Judge Pryor. That was an especially fun part of the job — getting to discuss cases with the judge and see his decision-making process.”

Pryor taught her that the proper role of the court is to only decide the case before it, Campbell said. “I learned a lot from Judge Pryor, incuding the importance of saying enough to decide the case but not so much that the decision goes beyond the dispute that is actually before the court.”

Pryor encouraged Campbell to apply for the Supreme Court clerkship near the end of her time in his chambers, as did Ernest Young, Duke's Alston & Bird Professor of Law. She has been working at Williams & Connolly since October.

“Sarah will be a great law clerk for the justice, who has been teaching a short course on constitutional interpretation at Duke Law School for the past two years,” said Dean David F. Levi. “The faculty, Career Center, and I have put a high priority on helping Duke Law students gain these unique clerkships which present such great opportunities for service and for learning.”

Campbell is the second Duke Law graduate Alito has selected as a clerk; Garrick Sevilla ’07 is clerking for him in the current term. Amy Mason Saharia ’05 is currently a clerk for Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Allison Jones ’07 clerks for Justice Clarence Thomas.

-Debbie Selinsky