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Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr. to retire from bench
43-year judicial career included 19 years appellate service

(From the Administrative Office of the Courts)
Former Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr. will end a 43-year judicial career, including 19 years of appellate court service, with his Aug. 31 retirement from the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Birch, described by Gov. Phil Bredesen as “a trailblazer in the legal profession,” is the only Tennessee judge ever to have served at each level of the court system – general sessions, trial, intermediate appellate court and state Supreme Court.

“We have been blessed to have a fair and independent state Supreme Court over the years, thanks to wonderful judges like Justice Birch and Justice Anderson," TBA President Bill Haltom said. "And I’m confident that with our merit selection process that the governor will appoint two outstanding justices who will carry on that tradition.”

In announcing his retirement, Birch wrote to Gov. Bredesen, “I have devoted all of my professional energy to the fulfillment of responsibilities entrusted in me as a member of the judiciary of this great state. Now, after more than 43 years of service as a public defender, prosecutor, and judge, it is time for me to step away and pursue those goals which are yet unrealized.”

Birch, who in 1996-1997 was the state’s first African-American chief justice, 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.

"Justice Birch has been a trailblazer in the legal profession throughout a career that has spanned every level of the judicial branch,” Bredesen said. “The state has been fortunate to enjoy the benefits of his dedication to public service for over 40 years. I wish him all the best in his retirement."

During his tenure on the bench, Birch has been recognized with professional awards and honors, including a decision last year by Davidson County officials to name a new Criminal and General Sessions Court building the Justice A.A. Birch Building.

Also, in 2005, Birch was awarded the National Bar Association’s prestigious William H. Hastie Award, the highest award of the NBA’s Judicial Council, for excellence in legal and judicial scholarship and commitment to justice. Other honors have included the Barbara Jordan Award, the highest award given by the international Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.

In his letter to the governor, Birch, 73, said he has been “immeasurably blessed” in his career. His service, he wrote, “has proven to me that a well-lived life depends not upon what one obtains, but upon what one gives.”

Birch, who earned his bachelors degree and law degrees from Howard University in Washington, D.C., is 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 is a member of the teaching faculty at the Nashville School of Law and has served as University of Memphis Distinguished Jurist in Residence.

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