News

Court Sharply Divided Over Housing Bias Law

The Supreme Court appeared sharply divided today in a debate over a decades-old strategy for fighting discrimination in housing, WRCB reports. Chief Justice John Roberts expressed serious doubts during a one-hour argument that the 1968 Fair Housing Act can be used to ban housing or lending practices without any proof of intent to discriminate. The court's four liberal justices defended the use of so-called "disparate impact" lawsuits that allege even race-neutral policies can have a harmful effect on minority groups. Justice Antonin Scalia, who usually aligns with Roberts and other conservatives, asked tough questions of both sides, making it tough to determine how the court might rule in a case that has steep ideological divisions. 

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Author to Appear on Radio Shows

In his new book, attorney and author Jim Emison writes about the June 20, 1940, Brownsville murder of Elbert Williams, the first NAACP member in the nation known to have been killed because of his civil rights work. Emison will talk about the murder and his upcoming book on Community Feedback WKFX 96 FM on Feb. 1 at 9 a.m. He will also appear on Prime Time Drive, News Talk Radio 101.5 FM on Feb. 3 at 4:30 p.m.

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Tennessee Legislature Mostly White, Christian Males

Tennessee’s General Assembly is predominantly white, Christian males, a new report shows. Nashville Public Radio analyzed lawmakers’ official profiles and campaign websites and found that 83 percent of them are men, 86 percent are white and 96 percent self-identified as Christian. Vanderbilt political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said the lack of female lawmakers was more disparate and surprising since women make up half the state’s population.

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MLK Day Events Begin Friday

A full slate of activities are scheduled across the state for the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day over the next several days. Events begin tomorrow in Nashville and continue through Tuesday with a luncheon at the University of Tennessee College of Law. See a sampling of events here.

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YLD Presents Awards, Hosts Student Leadership Group

The Young Lawyers Division Board met in conjunction with the TBA Leadership Conference this past weekend. In addition to conducting its winter board meeting, the group presented the 2015 CASA Volunteer of the Year Award to Jane Hickman with CASA of Robertson County and recognized several volunteer lawyers for their work. The YLD Diversity Committee also held the opening session for this year’s Diversity Leadership Institute. The class of 18 law students participated in the weekend’s leadership programming and heard from U.S. District Court Judge Pam Reeves on the “10 Commandments of Leadership.” The group will meet again in March and June. See photos from the YLD’s meetings.

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Penningroth to Speak at Vandy Law's MLK Lecture

Vanderbilt University Law School will present its Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture on Jan. 12, noon to 1 p.m., with Northwestern University Department of History Professor Dylan Penningroth speaking on "Faith and Property in African American History." The event is open to the public and lunch will be served. See a list of other Vanderbilt events for its week of MLK commemoration.

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‘Selma’ Screening, Program Set for Saturday

Knoxville area civil rights leaders who were part of the 1960s movement to register black voters across the South will share their experiences Saturday after a special screening of the critically acclaimed new movie “Selma,” Knoxnews reports. The screening – set for 3 p.m. at Regal Cinemas’ Pinnacle Turkey Creek Theater – will kick off a yearlong series of events hosted by the city to mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Obama Cements Judicial Legacy

The U.S. Senate confirmed a total of 132 district and circuit judges after a whirlwind series of late and even midnight sessions, Time reports. That is the most by any Congress in 35 years and helps secure a major part of President Barack Obama’s judicial legacy. The 305 Obama-nominated judges are also the most diverse group ever. “What Obama has done within terms of his judicial legacy is what no other president has ever done before and it’s doubtful that any future president is going to match it,” says Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Obama has diversified the bench in terms of gender, ethnicity, nationality to an extent never, ever, ever done before.”

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New Bill Aims to End Racial Profiling

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and state Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, have created the "Racial Profiling Prevention Act," a proposed state law requiring all law enforcement agencies to adopt a written policy by January 2016 banning racial profiling. The bill defines racial profiling as "the detention, interdiction, or other disparate treatment of an individual solely on the basis of the individual's actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, or national origin." The Tennessean has the story.

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Affirmative Action Could Go Back to Supreme Court

The issue of affirmative action could be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appeals court yesterday refused to reconsider a ruling allowing use of race as a factor in University of Texas undergraduate admissions. Abigail Fisher, who is white, sued in 2008 after she was denied admission. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, but justices told the appeals court to re-examine Fisher's arguments. Fisher's attorneys had asked the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a recent ruling that found barring the university from considering race would mean a less student diversity — in defiance of legal precedent promoting diversity as an important part of education. The Greeneville Sun has the story.

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Retired Baker Center Fellow to Speak at UT Trailblazer Series

Rita Sanders Geier, former associate to the University of Tennessee chancellor and retired senior fellow at the Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, will speak Friday about her involvement in desegregating the state of Tennessee’s higher education system and her experiences as an African American trailblazer making strides in the fields of civil rights, diversity and equal access to higher education. The presentation is a part of the Trailblazer Series sponsored by the school’s Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Commission for Blacks. It will take place from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the Hodges Library Auditorium.

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Study: Inequality Still Present in Legal Pay, Hiring

A joint survey from the National Association of Law Placement and the American Bar Foundation has found that the legal profession is still struggling to bridge hiring and income inequality based on race and gender, according The National Law Journal. Among its finding, the study showed that gender gap in the earning power of lawyers increases with longevity in the profession. The income disparity between women and men was five percent after two or three years of practicing law but expanded to 15 percent after seven years and 20 percent after 12 years. The study also found that the majority of the pay gap occurs in the private sector. In the public sector, by contrast, women earned 96 to 98 percent of what men earned for the same job. The survey also looked at ethnic and racial differences in hiring, finding that private firms employ 50 percent of all white lawyers, 46 percent of all Hispanic lawyers, 39 percent of all Asian lawyers and 35 percent of all African-American lawyers.

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Ben Jones Group Hosts Barristers’ Ball Saturday

The Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association will hold its annual Barristers’ Ball this Saturday at the Tower Center, located on the 33rd floor of the Clark Tower, in Memphis. The event provides an opportunity for lawyers and judges and their families to enjoy a night of food, music, recognition of outstanding achievements and fundraising. Money raised funds programming for the year and scholarships for minority students at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Email info@benfjones.org for more information or with any questions.

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Belmont Student Receives Birch Scholarship

Second-year Belmont University College of Law student Orlando Jarmaine Watson has received the 2014 Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr. Memorial Scholarship. The award will support Watson’s judicial internship this summer with Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Mark J. Fishburn. The scholarship is supported by the Adolpho A. Birch Jr. Legal Education Fund as a way to honor the late justice's commitment to academic excellence, public service and diversity in the legal and judicial professions. Watson is a member of the school’s American Inn of Court, Legal Aid Society and Black Law Student Organization, and coordinator of the Street Law Project. Read more in this press release from the Tennessee Judicial Conference Foundation.

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KBA Hosts Minority Law Student Reception Sept. 30

The Knoxville Bar Association (KBA) has partnered with the University of Tennessee College of Law and the LMU Duncan School of Law to host its annual Minority Law Student Reception. This year’s event will take place Sept. 30 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The Southern Depot, 318 W. Depot Ave. in downtown Knoxville. Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League will be the guest speaker. RSVP online or by calling (865) 522-6522 by Sept. 29. Law students interested in being paired with a practicing lawyer for the event should contact the KBA by Sept. 15.

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Austin Peay Hosts Civil Rights Films in September

Austin Peay State University in Clarksville will host four documentaries on the history of civil rights in America during the month of September. The films, which will screen at 7 p.m. on Tuesday nights, are part of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ program “Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle.” The initiative is designed to encourage discussions of America’s civil rights history. With each film, the university will host a forum and discussion. The films are The Abolitionists, Sept. 9; The Loving Story, Sept. 16; Freedom Riders, Sept. 23; and Slavery by Another Name, Sept. 30. Learn more in Business & Heritage Clarksville.

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Court Rules University Can Consider Race in Admissions

In a case on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, a Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled yesterday that the University of Texas can continue using race as a factor in undergraduate admissions, the Associated Press reports. The judges voted 2-1 that barring the university from using race would ultimately lead to a less diverse student body in defiance of previous legal precedent that promoting diversity was an important part of education.

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Remembering the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's signing into law of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most significant civil rights achievements in U.S. history. The new law made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended school, work and public facility discrimination, and barred unequal application of voter registration requirements. In observing the law's 50th anniversary, President Barack Obama said "few pieces of legislation have defined our national identity as distinctly, or as powerfully." WKRN has more from the Associated Press. Learn about lawyers’ roles in the Civil Rights Movement in Tennessee from this 2010 issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal.

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‘Soundtrack for a Revolution’ Screening Wednesday

The Nashville Public Library will show the documentary “Soundtrack for a Revolution” tomorrow from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The film celebrates freedom songs and explores how these anthems had the power to sustain the civil rights movement during its darkest hours. It is a unique mix of archival footage, interviews with civil rights leaders and musical performances from artists such as John Legend, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean and The Roots.

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Civil Rights 50th Anniversary Celebration July 9

The YWCA is urging Tennesseans to take a stand against racism and join the organization as it celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, District Attorney-elect Glenn Funk and others will speak at noon on July 9 at the Church Street Park, 600 Church St. Live music, food trucks and ice cream will be available.

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Number of Black Lawyers in 'BigLaw' Firms Falls

According to a new American Lawyer survey, only 3 percent of lawyers and 1.9 percent of partners at large law firms are African American. While the percentage of all minorities increased slightly last year at the 223 law firms polled, the number of black lawyers fell to its lowest level since 2000. Asian-Americans are now the largest group of minorities in law firms, comprising 6.3 percent of the lawyers and 2.7 percent of the partners. The next largest group is Hispanics, which account for 3.2 percent of the lawyers and 2.3 percent of the partners. The ABA Journal has the story.

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ABA Under Fire for Underrating Female, Minority Judicial Candidates

The American Bar Association is coming under fire for allegedly rating women and minority judicial candidates lower than white men, MSNBC reports. Maya Sen, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester, recently published a study finding that even when women and minority candidates have similar qualifications to their white male peers, the ABA committee gives them lower ratings. ABA President James R. Silkenat disputed Sen's findings, writing in a letter to the New York Times that Sen "dusted off Mad Men-era data” and "wrongly places blame for this serious problem with the American Bar Association’s nonpartisan process to evaluate the professional qualifications of potential judicial nominees."

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Birmingham Bombing Attorneys Speak in Knoxville on Civil Rights

Former Attorney General Bill Baxley and former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones — the prosecutors responsible for bringing justice in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls — told a Knoxville audience that the fight for civil rights is still a work in progress, WBIR reports. Baxley and Jones spoke at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church on Friday as part of the city's ongoing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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Tenn. House Votes to Express Regret for Slavery, Trail of Tears

The state House has voted to express "profound regret" for slavery and segregation in Tennessee, but stopped short of an outright apology. The chamber voted 97-0 in favor of the resolution sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mike Turner of Nashville, but the Republican-controlled chamber removed language from the original resolution that sought to offer "profound apologies" for slavery. The slavery measure followed the unanimous approval earlier in the session of a resolution expressing regret for the forced removal of more than 15,000 Native Americans in the 1830s. The Trail of Tears resolution was later approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Bill Haslam yesterday. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more from the Associated Press.

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Firm Awards Diversity Scholarships to 2 in Tennessee

Two Tennessee law students have earned diversity scholarships from Bradley Arant Boult Cummings and will clerk at the firm’s Nashville office this summer. Vanderbilt Law School student Monique A. Hannam and University of Tennessee College of Law student Racquel B. Martin were selected to be a part of the program, which promotes the education of well-qualified law students who reflect the diversity of the legal marketplace and who are traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession.

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