James L. Ryan was born in Detroit, Michigan, on November 19, 1932, the only son of Leo and Irene Ryan. He attended Detroit Catholic Central High School, where he enjoyed the guidance, discipline, and encouragement of the Basilian Fathers.
In the autumn of 1950, he entered the University of Detroit, and after three years of Jesuit-inspired philosophy, literature, science, and history, he entered the University’s School of Law. In 1956, he was awarded his LL.B., and was married to Mary Elizabeth Rogers on October 12, 1957. Ryan served as an officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the United States Navy on active duty until 1960, and continued his military service as a certified military judge in the Naval Reserve until his retirement with the rank of Captain in 1992.
On his return to civilian life in 1960, Ryan became associated with a small law firm in the First National Building in downtown Detroit. Ryan was elected Justice of the Peace in Redford Township in 1963, later became President of the Wayne County Justices of the Peace Association, and a member of the Michigan Supreme Court’s Committee on Minor Court Reorganization. In 1966, he was elected to the Third Judicial Circuit of Michigan.
In 1975, Governor William G. Milliken appointed Ryan as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. He was elected in 1976, re-elected in 1978, and served on the bench for ten years until his selection by President Ronald Reagan to serve as Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 1985.
Throughout his long and illustrious career, Ryan has had a keen interest in education. He served on the Board of Trustees of Marygrove College in the early 1970s, and for nearly 15 years was a member of the Board of Directors of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He taught “Evidence” at Cooley, and at the University of Detroit. A renowned expert on the law of evidence, he continues to lecture at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, as he has for more than 25 years. (Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan Reports: Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of Michigan. Rochester, N.Y.: Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Co., 1949 – 1998, Vol. 448.)
Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
March 30, 1995
Oil on canvas
30″ X 40″
State of Michigan
Hall of Justice – 1st Floor:
Michigan Judicial Institute
Portrait photo by:
Doug Elbinger, Lansing – June 1996