Tennessean: Nashville attorney wins confirmation to federal appeals court

Posted on September 14, 2010

WASHINGTON — Jane Branstetter Stranch, a second-generation Nashville attorney active in civic affairs, was confirmed by the Senate on Monday to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.                                                                                                                                                                             

Stranch, 56, was nominated by President Barack Obama in August 2009 and approved by a vote of 71-21.

Her nomination had been the longest pending among those proposed by Obama for the appeals courts.

These judgeships are important because they hear appeals from federal district courts and set precedent within that circuit. The 6th Circuit hears appeals from federal courts in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan.

While Stranch's nomination attracted little controversy itself, she was caught up in the broader fight between Republicans and Democrats over the confirmation of judicial nominees — a political battle that goes back through the last few presidencies.

Stranch's nomination by a Democratic president was supported by the state's two Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Both spoke on her behalf at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October 2009. The Judiciary Committee easily approved her nomination in November.

Alexander cited her academic record and community involvement.

"Ms. Stranch has been very active in her PTA, in her church and in the community," Alexander said Monday.

Stranch graduated summa cum laude with the bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University in 1975 and was Order of the Coif in earning her law degree from Vanderbilt in 1978. She practices in a firm started in 1952 by her father Cecil D. Branstetter. It includes her brother C. Dewey Branstetter Jr., and her husband, James Stranch III.

Her practice has focused on labor and employment law, specializing in the Employment Retirement Security Act, which establishes standards for pension plans. She also has a specialty in utility law.

Stranch served as the first board chairwoman of the Bellevue YMCA and was on PTA executive boards for the Metro Nashville Public Schools for more than a decade. She also was vice chancellor for the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee.

Alexander dislodged her nomination from the partisan gridlock over judicial nominations when he convinced Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in mid-July to go to the Senate floor and request that a date be set for her confirmation debate.

That was blocked, but Alexander continued to push the nomination. Just before senators left for their August recess they agreed to vote when they returned on Monday.

Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, was the only senator to speak against Stranch's nomination. He said she had not taken a strong enough position against citing international law in making judicial rulings.

In her written answers to questions, Stranch acknowledged that foreign laws are sometimes mentioned in Supreme Court cases. But she noted that no foreign laws were used to interpret constitutional issues. "The Supreme Court's restraint on this issue is a model for the lower court," she said.