William & Mary Law School has a new director of its Institute of Bill of Rights Law (IBRL): Professor Allison Orr Larsen. Since its founding nearly 40 years ago, the Institute has become one of the foremost centers in the nation for scholarship, teaching, discussion and debate of constitutional issues. A noted scholar and award-winning teacher, Larsen joined the William & Mary faculty in 2010 and is the first woman to lead the Institute.
Dean A. Benjamin Spencer said that Larsen is highly regarded among her peers across the nation as “a truly exceptional scholar.” In addition, he said, “Professor Larsen’s name comes up again and again when I ask students and alumni to tell me about a faculty member who has challenged them, encouraged and inspired them. I have no doubt that Alli will be outstanding as Institute director.”
“I am honored to be the new director of the Institute,” Larsen said. “The IBRL plays such an important role in the intellectual life of this law school. I am very excited to take the reins from my dear friend and mentor Neal Devins and to continue the strong tradition he bolstered by fostering dialogue on the most pressing constitutional issues of our time.”
“I think what most excites me is the opportunity for creative engagement on cutting edge issues,” she said. “The IBRL hosts amazing annual events - including the Supreme Court Preview, which is my favorite weekend of the year - and I am honored to continue those. But I am also excited to try new things. I use this phrase ‘ripped from the headlines’ in class when I want to discuss a new legal problem that is just emerging. I think the IBRL is well-positioned to tackle ‘ripped from the headlines’ constitutional issues by gathering new voices and joining them with our own recognized experts on the faculty.”
The Institute’s mission is to contribute to the ongoing national debate about issues relating to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Its preeminent event, the Preview, brings together the “Who’s Who” of the Supreme Court each fall to discuss the Court’s upcoming term. Among its other endeavors, the Institute sponsors the Constitution Day Lecture, an administrative law forum and symposia co-sponsored by the student-edited William & Mary Law Review and William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal.
“Alli will be a wonderful director and I am thrilled she is taking over the Institute,” said Devins, Sandra Day O’Connor Professor of Law and Professor of Government, who concluded his 15-year tenure as Institute director in June and returned to the faculty. “For the past several years, Alli has been instrumental to the success of the Preview and other Institute events, including a fantastic symposium on 'The Role of Courts in Politically Charged Moments' that she organized for William & Mary Law Review in 2019,” he said. “Her scholarship related to the Supreme Court and her experiences as a Supreme Court clerk also make her the perfect choice to run the Institute and Preview.”
Larsen is a scholar of constitutional law and legal institutions, with a focus on how information dynamics affect both. Her work has been published in the top law reviews and been cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and for the Seventh Circuit. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have highlighted her research on factfinding at the Supreme Court. She also appeared with Stephen Colbert in 2014 as a guest on The Colbert Report (Comedy Central) to discuss her scholarship on Supreme Court amicus briefs.
Larsen said she is delighted that her new post affords her the chance to engage with students who want to continue to explore constitutional issues outside the classroom. “Students are the life blood of the IBRL,” she said. “Their ideas, their hard work, their can-do spirit - these are what keep the IBRL evolving from generation to generation. I hope the IBRL enriches the students as much as the students enrich the Institute. Engaging with students is my favorite part of the job - directing the IBRL will give me further opportunity to do so.”
The State Council for Higher Education in Virginia selected Larsen for an Outstanding Faculty Award in 2014, an honor that recognizes excellence in teaching, research, and service. She was one of two recipients designated as a “Rising Star,” an accolade given to those who show extraordinary promise early in their careers. The university and Law School have recognized her teaching and scholarship with numerous honors including the Alumni Fellowship Award, the Walter L. Williams, Jr., Memorial Teaching Award, two university-wide Plumeri Awards and the inaugural McGlothlin Teaching Award.
In recent years, she has been the Daniel P.S. Paul Visiting Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and a Visiting Scholar at Oxford University.
Larsen is a Charlottesville, Va., native and magna cum laude graduate of William & Mary. She finished first in a class of 360 students at the University of Virginia School of Law. She served as a law clerk for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and for Justice David Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court. After practicing in the appellate litigation division of O'Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C., she began her academic career as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Catholic University School of Law.
Devins said he is “very excited to see the wonderful things Alli does with the Institute.” He had, he added, a “great run” and appreciated the incredible support he and the Preview received over the years from former Deans Davison M. Douglas and Taylor Reveley, former Institute administrator Melody Nichols, and the Law School’s events planning team, especially Ali Trivette, Ashley Edwards and Kelsey Rothera. In addition, throughout his time as director he enjoyed the support of “fantastic students” who worked with him on Institute endeavors and pursued their own projects.
“Neal is a dear friend and mentor; the IBRL has thrived under his leadership over the last several decades,” said Larsen, “What I admire the most about Neal’s contributions is the way he embraces constitutional issues from a variety of important perspectives – from the bench, the bar, the academy and the journalists. We all can learn from each other and the conversation is enriched by the diversity,” she said.
“ I am so grateful Neal has taken me under his wing for the past several years. I am honored to take the torch from him and will do my best to continue the strong IBRL tradition he sustained.”
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America’s oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.