Senior Judge James L. Ryan, known for his numerous dissents, announced that he is retiring from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2010.

Ryan has been on the Sixth Circuit since 1985 when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.  Before that, Ryan spent ten years as an associate justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, and nine years as a county judge in Michigan.  Ryan began his judicial career as a justice of the peace in 1963.

As Ryan admits to, “I write a lot of dissents. . . . It’s not unusual.”

One of Ryan’s most notable dissents came in Poletown Neighborhood Council v. Detroit, where the Michigan Supreme Court greatly expanded the scope of the eminent domain power by upholding the City of Detroit’s authority to seize land for the benefit of a private corporation–in that case, General Motors.

The year was 1981, when the U.S. was in the grips of its last major recession.  Unemployment in Detroit hovered at a horrendous 28 percent, and there was immense political pressure on the city to create jobs (which GM promised).

Although he was an elected judge at the time, Ryan nevertheless took the bold step of dissenting, concluding that the majority had subordinated a constitutional right to private corporate interests.

More than two decades later, in 2004, Ryan’s dissenting position was vindicated when the Michigan Supreme Court in Wayne County v. Hathcock overruled Poletown.  The court in Hathcockadopted Ryan’s Poletownrationale and held that economic development was not a valid public use to authorize the state to transfer property from one private party to another.

Will Judge Ryan issue a last great dissent during his final weeks on the bench?  We’ll keep you posted.

View Judge Ryan’s full bio, after the jump.

Bio of Senior Judge James L. Ryan

  • Born in Detroit, Michigan.
  • Bachelor of Laws degree, Detroit Mercy Law (1956).
  • Bachelor’s degree, University of Detroit Mercy (1992).
  • Captain Judge Advocate in the United States Navy Reserves Judge Advocate General Corps (1957 to 1992).
  • Active duty as a Lieutenant Law Specialist (1957 to 1960).
  • Private practice attorney in the State of Michigan (1960 to 1966).
  • Justice of the Peace for Redford, Michigan (1963 to 1966).
  • Circuit Court Judge for the Third Judicial Circuit of Michigan (1966 to 1975).
  • State Supreme Court Justice for the Michigan Supreme Court (1975 to 1985).
  • Military Court Justice (1980 to 1992).
  • Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law (since 1974).
  • Adjunct Professor of Law at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan (1979 to 1985).
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (1985 to present) (nominated by President Ronald Reagan).