Judge Jane B. Stranch ’78 (BA’75) of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals hosted by VLS ACS chapter

Judge Jane B. Stranch ’78 (BA’75) of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit discussed her career as a labor lawyer and her work as an appellate judge in a Q&A moderated by Joey Vettiankal ’24 and sponsored by the VLS student chapter of the American Constitution Society.

Judge Stranch was nominated to her seat on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Barack Obama and confirmed in 2010. Before taking the bench, she was a member and managing partner with Branstetter Stranch & Jennings in Nashville, where she focused on labor and ERISA law.

Here are some takeaways from Stranch’s conversation with students:

  • An independent judiciary is crucial to democracy. “Our judicial system is the envy of the entire world, because our courts are independent from the other branches of government.”
  • When courts do not function independently, respect for them is undermined. “We live in a time that cries out for calm voices to speak publicly about the value and necessity of an independent judiciary.”
  • Judicial dissents offer a respectful way for judges to use their power to “powerfully articulate a counterargument.” Judge Stranch cited the example of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, whose dissents in Plessy v. Ferguson and the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 “set out how cases should have been decided,” Judge Stranch said. “They are the law of the land today.”
  • One positive way to restore faith in the judiciary is to become a judge. Judge Stranch noted that the judiciary in 2023 looks different than it did when she entered the legal profession in the late 1970s. “I rarely saw a woman judge early in my career,” she said. “Now I sit on three-woman panels all the time.” She especially encouraged students “who don’t feel historically represented” to consider becoming judges. “Don’t think you’re disqualified because you are different from what seems to be the face of the law,” she said.

More than 100 students attended Judge Stranch’s talk.

Judge Stranch is a summa cum laude graduate of Vanderbilt University and received her J.D. from VLS Order of the Coif. She is a member of the Nashville, Tennessee, and American Bar Associations, the Federal Judges Association, National Association of Women Judges, Lawyers’ Association for Women and a Fellow of the Nashville and Tennessee Bar Foundations.