Cecil D. Branstetter, who graduated from Vanderbilt Law School in 1949, was honored as the law school’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2009.
Branstetter, who grew up in the rural town of Deer Lodge, Tennessee, was the first member of his family to attend college when he left home at age 18, carrying his possessions in a cigar box, to attend Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee.
Branstetter worked his way through college at Lincoln Memorial, rising at 3 a.m. to milk the cows at the campus dairy before attending a full day of classes, and then milking the cows again in the evening. He left college to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After his military service, he finished his last year of college at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and then entered Vanderbilt Law School, where he graduated Order of the Coif in 1949. In 1950, Branstetter was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly, where he sponsored legislation to allow women to serve on juries.
"I’ve come to know Cecil in connection with the establishment of our Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program in 2005, and the striking thing about Cecil’s career is not just his success as a practicing lawyer," says Richard Nagareda, who directs the Cecil D. Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program. "Cecil is truly a citizen-lawyer – one of an extraordinary generation of Nashvillians who have made our city what it is today."
Branstetter served on the commission that led to the formation of the Nashville Metro government in 1962, and also been a past member of the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission, the Civil Liberties Union, and the Tennessee Environmental Council. He is a member of the Mayor’s Efficiency in Government Commission and is active in numerous Democratic Party activities.
Branstetter founded the firm that is now Branstetter Stranch & Jennings, and as a result of the firm’s work, Vanderbilt Law School received a court-approved distribution from an antitrust class action settlement that provided the endowment for the Cecil D. Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program. "We named the Program in Cecil’s honor to underscore to students that there’s so much more that our graduates can be than just successful lawyers," Nagareda told an audience at the law school’s annual Founder’s Circle dinner on April 24. "In any system dedicated to the rule of law, lawyers have a special role to play, to help their fellow citizens to overcome old hatreds, to imagine a better future, and to realize that what they can achieve together is so much greater than what they can achieve by themselves. Cecil Branstetter has exemplified this role throughout his career."