Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Who is Justice Joan Larsen?

Joan Larsen is President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from Michigan.

Age: 48

Current Position: Justice on the Michigan Supreme Court (Lansing, MI)


  • B.S., University of Northern Iowa (1990)

  • J.D., Northwestern University School of Law (1993); magna cum laude (first in class); Recipient, John Paul Stevens Award for Academic Excellence; Recipient, Lowden-Wigmore Prize (Best Student Note); Recipient, Raoul Berger Prize (Best Senior Research Paper); Articles Editor, Northwestern University Law Review

Judicial Clerkships:

  • Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1993-1994)

  • Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court (1994-1995)


  • 1995-1997:  Sidley & Austin LLP

  • 1997-1998:  Visiting Assistant Professor, Northwester University Law School

  • 1998-2002, 2003-2015:  Special Counsel to the Dean and Lecturer in Law, University of Michigan School of Law

  • 2002-2003:  Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (Washington, D.C.)

Notable Matters:  

  • Justice Larsen was appointed on September 30, 2015 by Governor Rick Snyder to the Michigan Supreme Court and elected to another term in November 2016.  In describing her judicial philosophy on her campaign website, Justice Larsen wrote, “[J]udges should interpret the laws according to what they say, not according to what the judges wish they would say.  Judges are supposed to interpret the laws; they are not supposed to make them.”

  • At the University of Michigan School of Law, Justice Larsen’s research and teaching interests include constitutional law, international law, the judicial system, and separation of powers.  She is a recipient of the L. Hart Wright Award for Excellence in Teaching. 

  • Her academic writings include Importing Constitutional Norms from a “Wider Civilization”: Lawrence and the Rehnquist Court’s Use of Foreign and International Law in Domestic Constitutional Interpretation, 65 Ohio St. L. J. 1283 (2004), in which she argued against the consideration of international law for substantive constitutional questions.

  • As an attorney in private practice at Sidley & Austin LLP, Justice Larsen was a member of the Constitutional, Criminal and Civil Litigation Section. 

Biographical Notes:  Justice Larsen is married and has two children.

Update: Letters of Endorsement for Justice Larsen

32 University of Michigan Law Professors and former Colleagues: “Even among the talented and ambitious lawyers at an elite law school, Joan stands out for her ability to make the penetrating insight that untangles some knotty problem of statutory interpretation or judicial doctrine. Especially distinctive, moreover, is the rigor and evenhandedness she brings to her analysis.  For Joan, law is not just an extension of politics; it is a distinct force–both our inheritance and our responsibility–that deserves care, respect, and the most serious attention. It is always a pleasure to see her insist, politely yet firmly, that doctrine is not endlessly malleable and that statutes mean what they say.”

Mary Massaron, Michigan appellate lawyer and Stabenow donor: “I have represented my clients when they were litigating as plaintiffs and defendants.  So it is not surprising that what I most look for in an appellate judge is a willingness to grapple deeply with the legal and factual issues presented in an appeal and to decide them in a fair and balanced way.  Good judging requires focus, intelligence, balance, humility, and a commitment to the notion of justice under the rule of law.  Justice Larsen is an exceptional person and jurist and has earned my strongest support.”

Derek Milosavljevic, former student and Supreme Court litigator: “I have rarely agreed with President Trump, but he has made an excellent choice in Justice Larsen.  She is a brilliant, dedicated, thoughtful, and fair-minded jurist deserving of bipartisan support.”

29 Former government officials and colleagues: “During more than 20 years of practicing and teaching law in and out of government, Joan Larsen has earned a well-deserved reputation for acumen, integrity, and judgment, as well as deep respect for the rule of law.”



Carrie Severino — Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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