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Alumni Newsmakers | '30s | '40s | '50s | '60s | '70s | '80s | '90s | '00s | A Supreme Clerkship | Setting Precedent for Sept. 11 Victims | Making Headlines | Alumnus Named GW Trustee | An International Veteran | Icing on the Cake | Alumni Bookshelf | In Memoriam

A Supreme Clerkship

It was a dream come true for Courtney Gilligan, JD ’02. After months of waiting and wondering, the call had come. “I was shaking,” she says. “The impossible had happened.” Just weeks out of law school, Gilligan had landed a clerkship with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

One of just a handful of GW Law alumni ever to achieve the coveted honor of clerking for a Supreme Court justice, Gilligan follows in the able footsteps of GW Law Dean Michael K. Young, who clerked for Rehnquist after graduating from Harvard.

“Clerking on the Court was one of the most extraordinary legal experiences of my life and I am sure it will be for Courntney as well,” Young says. “Justice Rehnquist goes to great lengths to involve his clerks in every aspect of the Court’s work. But I know Courtney and she is more than up to the challenge. She will serve the Justice exceptionally well and, like her GW predecessors, make us all very proud that we can call her one of ours.”

“Dean Young was such a wonderful help and mentor throughout the whole process,” says Gilligan. “He expertly guided me along and was very generous with his time and advice.”

A native of northern New Jersey, Gilligan earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and philosophy from the University of Scranton in 1999. “It was an interesting combination—the study of what we are and why we are,” she says. “I thought that law school would be a good next step, and it was.”

Gilligan excelled at GW Law, graduating in the top 5 percent of her law school class and serving on the Law Review, Moot Court Board, and Alternative Dispute Resolution Board. She also worked as a research assistant for Associate Professor of Law Sonia Suter, who speaks glowingly of her.

“Courtney has all the qualities of an excellent law clerk,” says Suter. “She is intelligent, hard working, self-motivated, responsible, responsive, professional, and personable. She also has a refreshing idealism, which is tied to a very clear, centered sense of herself. Any judge would find her a pleasure to have in his or her chambers.”

Suter provided Gilligan with a formal recommendation for the clerkship, as did C. Thomas Dienes, her two-time constitutional law professor. “Courtney loves the study of law and is deeply passionate about and respectful of the Supreme Court as an institution,” says Dienes, GW’s Lyle T. Alverson Professor of Law. “She is very bright, with a real enthusiasm for constitutional law. I’m not surprised that the chief justice chose her.”

It’s not the first time that Rehnquist has hired a GW Law graduate to clerk for him. Greg Garre, JD ’91, completed a clerkship with the chief justice in 1992, and Paul Zidlicky, JD ’93, in 1994. Rehnquist also delivered the GW Law School commencement address in May 2000.

Gilligan’s first impressions of the chief justice—during a 10-minute personal interview in the spring—were extremely positive. “He is a very kind man, who quickly put me at ease and made me feel comfortable,” she says. “I really enjoyed talking to him and am looking forward to serving him.”

First, she will complete a one-year federal appellate clerkship—a usual prerequisite to clerking in the Supreme Court. In August, Gilligan moved to Fargo, N.D., where she will spend the next year clerking for the Hon. Frank Magill, United States Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. “During the application process, I decided to expand my horizons and options by throwing my name into the pot in Fargo,” she says. “It’s a great chance to live somewhere completely different. The skies are gorgeous here, and it’s so flat that you can see for miles around.”

She can’t wait to return to Washington next year to begin the Supreme Court clerkship. “It’s going to be an exciting time,” she says. “I have learned so much from the justices just by reading their opinions, and I can’t wait to work for and with Chief Justice Rehnquist. I’m looking forward to facing tough legal issues and challenges, and to learning a great deal on the job. It really is a dream come true.”

Gilligan credits GW Law with preparing her well for the fascinating journey ahead. “I feel honored and really blessed to have gone to GW,” she says. “I can’t even tell you how supportive everyone has been. They were really behind me every step of the way. I’m thrilled to have gotten the clerkship and hope to make my mentors and colleagues very proud.”
—Jamie L. Freedman

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