The Supreme Court has elected Justice Holly Kirby to be the next Chief Justice of the Court. Justice Kirby was unanimously elected by the Court for a two-year term, effective September 1, 2023. She becomes only the fourth woman to serve as the Court’s Chief Justice.
Justice Kirby was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2014 by former Governor Bill Haslam. Before her appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Kirby served for almost 19 years on the Tennessee Court of Appeals. She was a gender milestone on the intermediate appellate court, the first woman in Tennessee history to serve on the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
“I am honored to have been chosen chief justice by my colleagues on the Court,” Justice Kirby said. “I have the highest respect for Justice Page, my predecessor as Chief Justice, Justice Bivins, also a former Chief Justice, Justice Campbell, and now Justice Tarwater. Tennessee has the finest judiciary in the country; our judges are dedicated public servants who serve with integrity. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with all of them to strengthen public confidence in our courts, access to justice for vulnerable citizens, and the rule of law in Tennessee.”
Over the next several years, the Supreme Court will oversee the largest investment in the technology infrastructure of the judiciary in the state’s history. “Going forward,” Justice Kirby said, “smart technology for the judicial system will be crucial for our judges to do their jobs, to extract needed data for our State’s decision-makers, and for all Tennesseans to be able to access our courts.”
A lifelong Tennessean, Justice Kirby was born in Memphis and graduated from high school in Columbia. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis with high honors in mechanical engineering and then graduated from the University of Memphis School of Law with high honors. Justice Kirby is the first graduate of the University of Memphis to sit on Tennessee’s High Court.
After law school, Justice Kirby served as a judicial law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She then joined the Memphis law firm of Burch, Porter & Johnson, where she was active in politics and community service. She served for several years as a member of Tennessee’s Appellate Court Nominating Commission and served as its Chair in 1994. She became Burch, Porter and Johnson’s first female partner in 1990.
Justice Kirby was employed by the law firm until 1995 when Governor Don Sundquist appointed her to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. She was only 38 years old at the time, the mother of two young children, and remained the only woman on that court for several years.
When Justice Kirby began her legal career and her career as a jurist, she was often the “first” or the “only” woman. That situation has changed. In the wake of the August 2022 statewide elections, Tennessee now has a record number of female lawyers and judges.
The Tennessee Constitution states that the members of the Supreme Court “shall designate one of their own members who shall preside as Chief Justice.” Justice Kirby succeeds Justice Roger A. Page, who has served as Chief Justice since 2021. The chief justice is responsible for administrative functions of the court, such as setting dockets, making designations, and ensuring the efficient and orderly administration of justice throughout the state courts.
Governor Bill Lee will perform Justice Kirby’s ceremonial investiture at 9 a.m. on October 4th in the Old Supreme Court Chamber on the first floor of the Tennessee State Capitol. A reception will be scheduled in Memphis for this fall.