The Tennessee Court system is saddened to learn of the passing of former Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch, Jr.
Birch, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2006, became the state's first African American chief justice in 1996. Birch began his judicial career in 1969 as a General Sessions Court judge in Davidson County. He previously had served as an assistant public defender and assistant district attorney in Nashville. In 1978, he became a Criminal Court judge and in 1987, he was appointed to the Court of Criminal Appeals. He was elected to the appellate court in 1988 and was re-elected in 1990. Gov. Ned McWherter appointed Birch to the state Supreme Court in 1993. He was elected to the court the following year and re-elected to an eight-year term in 1998.
During his tenure on the bench, Birch was recognized with professional awards and honors, including a decision by Davidson County officials to name the new Criminal and General Sessions Court building the Justice A.A. Birch Building.
Birch, who earned his B.A. and law degrees from Howard University in Washington, D.C., was a former associate professor of Legal Medicine at Meharry Medical College and a former lecturer in law at Fisk University and Tennessee State University. He was a member of the teaching faculty at the Nashville School of Law and served as University of Memphis Distinguished Jurist in Residence.
Statement from Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark:
“We are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of former Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch, Jr. Our judicial family has lost a great leader, champion of justice, and dear friend. A true pioneer in many arenas, Justice Birch has left an indelible mark on the Tennessee judiciary and the entire legal system.
“As the only judge who ever served at every level of our legal system, Justice Birch had a keen understanding of the law, the judiciary and the people he served. That perspective served him well on the Supreme Court, especially in his role as chief justice. For his entire judicial career he continued to blaze trails to insure justice and access to the courts for all persons.
“I was very privileged to serve with Justice Birch on the Court during the last year of his tenure and to have my office around the corner from his. I often sought his advice and counsel. He never hesitated to stop what he was doing and answer my questions, and I benefitted greatly from his wisdom and patience. I was proud to call him my colleague and my friend.
"Justice Birch served the state of Tennessee with extraordinary dignity and integrity and we will miss him dearly.”