A new state-of-the-art $49 million criminal justice building will be dedicated at 3 p.m. (Central Time) Wednesday in Nashville in honor of Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Adolpho A. Birch, Jr., who is retiring Aug. 31 after 37 years of judicial service at every level of the court system.
The A.A. Birch Building ribbon cutting ceremony will include remarks by Chief Justice William M. Barker, Birch, members of his family and Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell. The six-story building at 408 2nd Ave. No. in Nashville will house general sessions and criminal courts serving the 20th Judicial District.
“It is truly with mixed emotions that I am retiring from the judiciary,” Birch, 73, said. “I have been privileged to spend most of my life in public service doing something I enjoy. I cannot adequately express how grateful and humbled I am by the honor of having this beautiful building named for me.”
The courts in the A.A. Birch building had been housed in the 69-year-old Davidson County Courthouse, along with other courts and offices. The historic building has undergone a total renovation and the new building has been added to the complex.
Birch, who was described by Gov. Phil Bredesen as “a trailblazer in the legal profession,” sat as a judge in the old courthouse before being elevated to the Court of Criminal Appeals and, later, the Supreme Court. His portrait hangs in the courtroom over which he presided as a Criminal Court judge.
He 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 Birch became a Criminal Court judge, and in 1987, he was appointed to the state Court of Criminal Appeals. He was elected to the intermediate appellate court in 1988 and was reelected in 1990.
Gov. Ned McWherter appointed Birch to the five-member Supreme Court in 1993. He was elected the following year and reelected to an eight-year term in 1998. Birch became Tennessee’s first African-American chief justice when members of the court elected him to the position in 1996. He served as chief justice from May 1996 to July 1997.
During his tenure on the bench, Birch has been recognized with a number of professional awards and honors, including the National Bar Association’s prestigious William H. Hastie Award in 1995. Other honors have included the Barbara Jordan Award, the highest honor given by the international Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.
Birch earned his B.A. and law degrees from Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he was a member of Law Review. He 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 School of Law distinguished jurist in residence.
In announcing his retirement, Birch said he has been “immeasurably blessed” in his career.
In his letter to the governor informing him of his decision to retire Birch wrote that his public service “has proven to me that a well-lived life depends not upon what one obtains, but upon what one gives.”
Birch Criminal Justice Building