The Tennessee judiciary is mourning the loss of former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice William Muecke Barker, who passed away on April 3, 2023, at the age of 81. Former Chief Justice Barker was from Chattanooga and spent 25 years on the judicial bench, 10 as a justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Justice Barker began his role in the Tennessee judiciary in 1983, when he was appointed by Governor Lamar Alexander as an Eleventh Judicial District circuit court judge. He was elected to two eight-year terms and was consistently the highest-rated circuit court judge by the Chattanooga Bar Association's bi-annual polls.
“I have known Justice Barker since he was a trial judge in Hamilton County, and I always admired him as a judge,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon G. Lee. “After I was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2004, he always encouraged and supported me. In the 2014 contested Supreme Court retention election, he was an effective spokesman for fair and impartial courts and was instrumental in our campaign against partisan politics in the judiciary. Justice Barker never forgot his roots, he was a straight-talker, and remained true to himself throughout his distinguished career. He also had a fantastic sense of humor. I admired him and will miss him.”
In 1995, he was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals by Governor Don Sundquist and was elected by Tennessee voters in August 1996.
In 1998, Governor Sundquist appointed Justice Barker to the Tennessee Supreme Court. In 2005, he was unanimously chosen by his colleagues to become Chief Justice. He was elected by voters to the Tennessee Supreme Court twice. Justice Barker retired on September 1, 2008, after a 25-year judicial career. After retiring from the bench, he became a member of the litigation section at the Chattanooga-based Chambliss Law Firm, which he retired from in 2021.
Justice Barker was born in Chattanooga on September 13, 1941. He graduated from City High School in 1959 and previously had attended McCallie School. Justice Barker earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee - Chattanooga and his J.D. from the University of Cincinnati School of Law in 1967. He served in the United States Army Medical Service Corps from 1967-69. After returning to Chattanooga, he joined the Deetsen Firm, which produced several other well-known judges over the years.
He is the former president of the Chattanooga Trial Lawyers Association and is a fellow of both the Chattanooga Bar Foundation and the Tennessee Bar Foundation. His civic activities include membership in the Rotary Club and American Legion. Justice Barker and his wife Catherine and have three children and several grandchildren. He is a member of First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga.