Profile of justice Holly Kirby

Justice Holly Kirby and husband Russell
Justice Holly Kirby and husband Russell

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Holly Kirby is the newest justice on Tennessee’s highest court. Sworn in by Governor Bill Haslam in September 2014, she is the first graduate of the University of Memphis ever to sit on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Her appointment to the Supreme Court to replace justice Janice Holder meant that the court remained a majority female, composing three of the five justices.

Before her appointment to the Supreme Court, Kirby served for more than 18 years on the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Tennessee’s intermediate appellate court for civil cases. She represented a gender milestone on the Court of Appeals when she was appointed in 1995 and became the first woman ever to sit on that court. While on the Court of Appeals, Kirby authored more than 1,000 opinions on appeals from across the state, with a reversal rate of less than 2 percent.

A lifelong Tennessean, Kirby was born in Memphis and graduated from high school in Columbia, Tenn. As an undergraduate at the University of Memphis, she was a Herff Honors Scholar and held a number of student leadership positions. She graduated in 1979, magna cum laude, with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering.

Kirby attended the University of Memphis School of Law on a Herff honors scholarship and served on the editorial board of the Law Review. In 1982, she graduated from the law school with high honors, third in a class of 140. Upon graduation, Kirby served as judicial law clerk to Judge Harry Wellford on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

After her clerkship, Kirby joined the Memphis firm of Burch, Porter & Johnson, where she specialized in employment litigation and was active in politics and community service. In 1990, she became the firm’s first female partner. While at Burch, Porter, Kirby was appointed to the Tennessee Appellate Court Nominating Commission and in 1994 served as its chair.

In 1995, Governor Don Sundquist appointed Kirby to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Since then she has won four statewide elections in 1996, 1998, 2006 and 2014.

From 1998 until her appointment to the Supreme Court, Kirby has been an appointed participant to the body that reviews ethics complaints against Tennessee’s judges, first for the Court of the Judiciary and then for the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct. She is a fellow of the Memphis Bar Foundation and a fellow of the Tennessee Bar Foundation, and she has been a member of the Leo Bearman Sr. American Inn of Court. She serves on the Council of State Governments Interbranch Committee, the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Judicial Conference and the Advisory Board for the University of Memphis School of Law. She also is a member of the American Bar Association, the Tennessee Bar Association and the Memphis Bar Association. Kirby became a member of the Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women shortly after it was formed and joined the Memphis Association for Women Attorneys (AWA) around 1985. This year, she is the 26th recipient of the AWA’s Marion Griffin-Frances Loring Award.

Kirby was chosen as Outstanding Young Alumna for the University of Memphis in 1996 and was chosen Outstanding Alumna for the University of Memphis College of Engineering in 2002. She is married to Memphis businessman Russell Ingram and is the mother of two grown children, Scott Lillard and Brooke Lillard. The family belongs to Idlewild Presbyterian Church.