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They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Elisabeth Theodore of Arnold & Porter

July 28, 2022, 9:00 AM

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
In August 2021, I won a major victory restoring voting rights to over 56,000 North Carolinians who are on parole or probation from felony convictions—who had served their time and were living and working in the community. The North Carolina state court found that the law, which traced back to the 19th century, violated the North Carolina Constitution because it was intended to discriminate against African Americans.

And in February 2022, I won another major victory for voting rights in North Carolina; the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the state’s congressional and legislative maps were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. The invalidated maps locked in substantial majorities for the Republicans in the state legislature and the congressional delegation regardless of how people voted.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
I learned to leave no stone unturned—read the record, read all the cases, and follow up on everything. The worst feeling is the unforced error of missing something that could have made the difference to your client or the outcome. And this applies to fact as well as law. Having a persuasive legal argument is important and essential, but it’s equally important to convince the court that your client deserves to win.

How do you define success in your practice?
Winning cases for my clients. It doesn’t matter how technically perfect your brief was or how many innovative arguments you came up with if you can’t convince the judge.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
My work on partisan gerrymandering lawsuits. Those cases combined innovative legal strategy with major victories for our clients vindicating their constitutional right to vote.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
I had the great privilege of clerking for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is an inspiration to me and to so many other lawyers (and people). Among many things she taught me was how individual lawyers can bring about systemic changes that make a huge difference in people’s lives, as Justice Ginsburg did in bringing pioneering litigation establishing the right of gender equality. I hope as part of my practice to bring about some of that change, too.

Just for fun, tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
Unfortunately, most of the music I’m listening to these days is the music my two-year-old likes—a lot of “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Baby Beluga.”

Elisabeth Theodore has won in high-stakes appeals ranging from antitrust to civil rights. Theodore clerked for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and for current U.S. attorney general and then-D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick B. Garland. Before joining her firm, she served as special counsel to the director of the FBI.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Helem at; Kibkabe Araya in Washington at