Adolpho A. Birch, Jr.
, generally known as A. A. Birch
, (born September 22
in Washington, D.C.
) was the first African American
ever to serve as Chief Justice
of the Tennessee Supreme Court
Birch was the son of an Episcopal
priest who was widowed
early and subsequently raised his son as a single parent. His professional concerns for his parishioners left the younger Adolpho with much time on his own, and he often raised small amounts of money for himself by picking up soft drink bottles for their deposit values, and generally learned to function largely independently.¹
Young Birch graduated from Washington's well-known Dunbar High School in 1950. After high school he attended Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) from 1950 to 1952. He then attended Howard University, where he earned the Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Jurisprudence degrees, serving on the prestigious law review 1954-56 and graduating in 1956. A Naval Reservist, he served on active duty 1956–1958.
Birch then moved to Nashville
, where he taught medical law at Meharry Medical College
and law at Fisk University
and Tennessee State A&I University
. During this time (1958–1963), Birch also maintained a private law practice.
In 1963 Birch was appointed assistant public defender for Davidson County. This was then a part-time position and Birch maintained his private law practice as well.
In 1966, Birch was appointed assistant district attorney for Davidson County, a full-time position which required him to end his private law practice. Birch served in this position with distinction for three years.
In 1969, Birch became a General Sessions Court judge
, becoming the first black Nashvillian to serve in a county-wide office. In 1978 he was elected Criminal Court Judge for the Twentieth District (Davidson County). Birch served in this position until 1987; in 1981-82 he was the presiding judge over the Trial Courts of Davidson County, making him responsible for case assignment and other procedural issues. Again, he was the first black ever to serve in this capacity. Also in 1981, Birch became an instructor at the Nashville School of Law
, a position he still maintains as of 2006
From 1983 to 1986, Birch served on the Court of the Judiciary, a specialized court which investigates allegations of judicial malfeasance and determines sanctions when allegations are found to be valid.
On March 2, 1987, Birch was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals by Governor of Tennessee Ned McWherter. In August 1988, Birch was confirmed by the voters of Tennessee to this office under the provisions of the Tennessee Plan. In August 1990, Birch was elevated by the voters under the provisions of the Tennessee Plan to the Tennessee Supreme Court, becoming only the second black ever to serve on that body to that time. He also became the first Supreme Court judge in Tennessee history to have served at every lower judicial level. In October 1994 Birch was selected Chief Justice by his fellow Justices, serving in that capacity until May 1996. In August 1998, Birch was confirmed for another eight year Supreme Court term, and served again as Chief Justice from July 1997 to August 1998 and September 1999 to August 2001. In 2006 Birch announced his retirement, and retired when his term ended on September 1 of that year.
The A. A. Birch building in downtown Nashville, home of Davidson County Criminal Courts, was dedicated in his honor in June 2006.