The Harry Phillips AIC was founded in 1990 in Nashville. It was the 120th American Inn of Court in the United States. The charter application included the names of John P. Branham, Chancellor C. Allen High, Judge William C. Koch, Jr., Dean Joe C. Loser, Jr., Charles H. Warfield, and Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr. From 1990 to 2021, over 400 lawyers, judges, law professors, and law students living and working in Middle Tennessee have been members of the Harry Phillips AIC.
American Inns of Court are permitted to have a specialized focus, and the original focus of the Harry Phillips AIC was on civil litigation. In recent years, the executive committee has expanded the Inn’s focus to include litigation trial techniques, professionalism and ethics issues, and other substantive legal topics.
As one of its first official acts, the Inn adopted the name Harry Phillips American Inn of Court in honor of the late Judge Harry Phillips, Chief Judge Emeritus of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Judge Phillips was born in 1909 in Watertown, Tennessee. After obtaining his Bachelor’s and law degrees at Cumberland University, he was admitted to the practice of law in 1933. He served in the Tennessee House of Representatives for four years and as an assistant state attorney general from 1937-1950. He practiced law in Nashville with Louis Farrell, Jr., B.B. Gullett, and former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Weldon White until President John F. Kennedy, at Senator Albert Gore’s urging, nominated him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Judge Phillips joined the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in July 1963. He served as chief judge from 1969 until 1979 when he took senior status. During his judicial career, Judge Phillips wrote over 500 majority opinions and numerous law review articles. He also wrote several books including a history of the Phillips family, “The History of the Sixth Circuit,” and the third and fourth editions of Pritchard on Wills and Estates.
Judge Phillips had many other professional accomplishments, but above all these, he was known as a person of humanity and humility. Judge George Edwards, Judge Phillips’ successor as chief judge, summed up these qualities best in 1981 at the formal presentation of Judge Phillips’ portrait when he said:
His industry and perseverance are well known among his friends and associates. No one works harder to achieve what he believes in. His legal scholarship is acknowledged far and near. His loyalty to the institutions in which he believes is legendary. This is not a blind loyalty, but one born of a deep understanding of the fundamental precepts of these institutions – his church, his family, this Nation and this Court. His humanity translates an abiding belief that we all are God’s children into a deep concern for the welfare of every person who touches his life. His courage enables him to take unpopular positions without hesitation when he furthers the cause of equal justice by doing so. All of these traits are undergirded by absolute integrity and a sense of fair play which is reflected in his life as well as his judicial decisions.
Judge Phillips died in England in 1985 from injuries received when he was struck while crossing a busy London street. In 1986, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit named its Nashville satellite library after Judge Phillips in recognition of his lifelong commitment to legal scholarship. Four years later, Nashville’s first American Inn of Court named itself after Judge Phillips, recognizing that he epitomized the qualities of competence, collegiality, and commitment to justice that are at the heart of the Inn’s mission.