Francis J. Lorson, chief deputy clerk for the Supreme Court, dies at 69

January 25, 2013

Francis J. Lorson, 69, a Supreme Court chief deputy clerk who managed administrative duties for 17 justices over three decades, died Jan. 11 at the Washington Home hospice in the District.

He had oropharyngeal cancer, which affects the throat, said his legal representative, Donald Wright.

Mr. Lorson, known as “Frank,” began his 30-year career at the Supreme Court as an assistant clerk in 1972. He was chief deputy clerk from 1981 until his retirement in 2002.

Mr. Lorson played a behind-the-scenes but key role in the court. His duties included maintaining detailed court records to shepherding novice lawyers through necessary paperwork.

In a eulogy, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. described Mr. Lorson as “a quiet, unassuming man who had the charisma of one who knew what he was doing.”

In a 2002 interview with journalist Tony Mauro, now of the National Law Journal, Mr. Lorson said his “guiding principles are, first, a loyalty to the institution and its precedents [and] second, a loyalty to each of the individual justices.”

Mr. Lorson was a confidant of many current and former justices and was particularly close to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who spoke at his memorial service about his support during her battle with colon cancer.

When the massive 1996 blizzard paralyzed most of the District, Mr. Lorson personally shuttled Ginsburg and Justice Stephen G. Breyer to the court in a borrowed four-wheel-drive Jeep. “The trust relationship between individual employee and the justices is what makes the institution work,” he told The Washington Post in 2002.

Francis John Lorson, who lived in Georgetown, was born in Rochester, N.Y., and raised on a farm in Penfield, N.Y. He received a bachelor’s degree in American history in 1966 and a law degree in 1971, both from Catholic University.

After retiring, he participated in judicial workshops in Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia and Azerbaijan.

Later, he helped Linda Greenhouse, a former New York Times Supreme Court reporter, in her research of the late Justice Harry A. Blackmun’s papers. He offered a court insider’s perspective and helped Geeenhouse catalogue the massive collection, which contained more than 500,000 items. The result was the book “Becoming Justice Blackmun,” published in 2005.

Survivors include a brother and a half-brother.

— Megan McDonough