Aerial photograph of the Immaculate Conception Chapel

1984 Graduate Elizabeth McClanahan Joins Virginia Supreme Court

Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan ’84“I’ve loved all my jobs,” says Elizabeth A. McClanahan ’84.

It’s very likely she’ll continue to say that about her new position: a justice on the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Elected by the Virginia General Assembly this summer, Justice McClanahan received a 12-year term. She was sworn in as a member of the court on September 1, and had her first full week of hearings about a week later.

Previously, Justice McClanahan had served on the Virginia Court of Appeals since 2003, and was in her second term in that post when she was elected to the Supreme Court.

Justice McClanahan, who replaced a retiring justice on the Supreme Court, said she was approached by several Virginia legislators about applying for the opening. It didn’t take her long to decide to pursue the position.  "At the moment I was asked, absolutely I thought I would like to do that job," she said.

After serving on the Court of Appeals for eight years, she said, she viewed the state Supreme Court as her “next professional step.”

Joining the Supreme Court was also appealing, she said, because it has broader jurisdiction and offers a more diverse caseload, including a heavier civil docket. The appellate court had limited jurisdiction, she said, so the cases it hears are “more limited,” and primarily include criminal appeals.

She said she enjoys the academic and intellectual challenges that judges face. “The underlying legal questions are very interesting to me and very stimulating,” Justice McClanahan said. “I also enjoy appellate arguments by lawyers. I enjoy hearing lawyers at their very best.”

Prior to joining the Court of Appeals she was the chief deputy in the Virginia Attorney General’s office. She described her work in the Attorney General’s office as the “perfect mix of policy, politics and law.”

She also was a partner at the law firm Penn, Stuart and Eskridge in Abingdon, Virginia. She is an expert in natural resources law focusing on natural gas, coal and oil issues.

She said her father decided she should be a lawyer when she was as young as 5 or 6 years old. “He told me I should be a lawyer because I talked so much,” she said, explaining that as the oldest of four children, she was very outgoing. “I wanted to please my Dad. I was one of those kids.”

Justice McClanahan “followed a boy” to the University of Dayton School of Law and was on the Law Review as a student. She said she had a “very good experience at Dayton” and it gave her a solid legal education.

Justice McClanahan earned her undergraduate degree in 1981 from William and Mary, where she double majored in government and sociology.

She has served as vice rector on William and Mary’s Board of Visitors, is the former chair of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and the recipient of numerous civic awards, including the YMCA Tribute to Women Award for Volunteer Community Service and the Virginia 4-H Foundation Alumni Award.

Justice McClanahan and her husband, Byrum Geisler, have two children.