News

Textbook Complaints Set Stage for Legislative Debate

Complaints of bias in school textbooks are leading to several proposals that will likely be introduced in the upcoming legislative session, the Tennessean reports. Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, plans to introduce a bill to give more weight to public input in the approval of textbooks. Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, plans to propose legislation that would create an online site for parents, community members and educators to submit textbook reviews and analysis. Finally, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, has suggested potential changes to the composition of the state textbook commission — the 10-member group of educators that reviews and approves state textbooks. Nine of the current members are appointed by the governor.

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Lawmakers Review Textbook Selection Process

Tennessee lawmakers are holding hearings this week to review the state’s textbook selection process, the Tennessean reports. The Senate Education Committee and the Senate Government Operations Committee held the hearings yesterday and today to seek clarity regarding the structure and function of the Tennessee Textbook Commission. The commission recently came under fire by a group of parents for having adopted textbooks containing alleged inappropriate language and a controversial interpretation of historical facts.

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Chief Justice Wade Honors Legal Aid Hall of Famers

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) held its annual Pro Bono Attorneys Hall of Fame Reception last Thursday, the Hamilton County Herald reports. The event featured remarks by Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, who thanked area lawyers for their consistent support of LAET, and a reading of the names of those inducted into the Hall of Fame. Attendees enjoyed drinks and snacks, and voted on artwork submitted to the “Champions of Justice” elementary and high school student art contest.

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AG Rules on Virtual Public Schools

Attorney General Robert Cooper issued an opinion today regarding virtual public schools. According to the opinion, local education agencies are required to ensure that virtual schools have a physical administrative office in Tennessee, do not exceed 1,500 students and that all teachers are qualified to teach in Tennessee. Cooper also said that Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman has the authority to recognize and approve a virtual school established in accordance with the Virtual Public Schools Act.

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Cane Ridge Youth Court Students Take Office

After a successful pilot program in the spring, the Academy of Law at Cane Ridge High School launched its youth court program and installed student members this week in Antioch. Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sophia Crawford, whose support has been central to the development of the program, officiated at the installation and swearing-in ceremonies. The school’s Restorative Court handles truancy cases referred to the Metro-Student Attendance Center and the juvenile court. Read more here about the Cane Ridge court and the Tennessee Youth Court Program or read more from this report in the Tennessean.

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Court in Murfreesboro for SCALES Program

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard three cases today at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro as part of the Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students (SCALES) program. Students from across campus heard oral arguments in the cases and quizzed lawyers about their arguments at the conclusion of the proceedings. Read about the cases in the Daily News Journal.

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Youth Recognized for Constitution Week Essays

Eleven Jackson-Madison County School students were named Constitution Week essay winners by the Jackson-Madison chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution during a ceremony held yesterday, the Jackson Sun reports. Students were asked to answer several questions in the essay, including “how does our government establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility?” and “how does the government promote general welfare among the people?” “Constitutional literacy is in a bad state among young adults once they reach college,” said Micah Watson, an associate professor of political science at Union University. “Seeing young people learning early is a bright spot. I’m glad to see the DAR and the community doing more to educate our youth.”

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New App Puts Constitution at Your Fingertips

The 2,860 page annotated Constitution is now available for free in an app released Tuesday in honor of Constitution Day, the ABA Journal reports. The app was released by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, the Library of Congress, and the Government Printing Office and is available from iTunes.

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Communities Across Tenn. Celebrate Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day and events across the state are exposing Americans to concepts enshrined in the nation’s founding document. Among the many activities taking place were the following:

  • In Chattanooga, events were scheduled throughout the week. Yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas III led the first of four seminars on the Constitution. Earlier, General Sessions Judge Lila Statom spoke to the local DAR chapter. Today, the county mayor spoke about the balance of power and responsibility in a federal system, while commission members were on hand to ring bells to celebrate constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. On Thursday, students will read the U.S. Constitution aloud on the steps of City Hall.
  • In Cookeville, nationally acclaimed constitutional law professor David Kopel will speak to students at Tennessee Tech University tonight about the right to bear arms.
  • In Franklin, Williamson College hosted a Constitution Day Lunch and discussion about the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, while representatives from the local DAR chapter visited classrooms to talk to students. That group also will hold a reenactment of the signing of the Constitution Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Historic Franklin Presbyterian Church.
  • In Jackson, Lane College students participated in a Constitution Day ceremony, which included remarks by attorney Stephen Brooks and a voter registration drive, while the local DAR chapter hosted its annual bell ringing at the Madison County Courthouse to commemorate the signing of the Constitution. Eleven middle school students also were presented awards from the DAR for essays they wrote on various topics related to the Constitution.
  • Finally, in Murfreesboro, MTSU students focused on voter registration efforts and held a public debate on the proposed DREAM Act.

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Sept. 17 Offers Chance to Reflect on Constitution

Each year on Sept. 17, the nation observes Constitution Day to commemorate the creation and signing of its founding document, and celebrate the privileges and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution, which was signed on Sept. 17, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and ratified on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve it. Teachers, lawyers and judges are all encouraged to stress the importance of the nation's founding document, and the TBA Public Education Committee has developed a list of resources to help those interested in presenting to student or adult groups. Among events already planned, UT College of Law professor Karla McKanders will discuss immigration law on Constitution Day at Roane State Community College’s Oak Ridge Campus.

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AG Response Sought for Charter School Constitutionality Debate

Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell is seeking the opinion of the state Attorney General Robert Cooper on questions posed by Metro Nashville Public Schools attorney John Borkowski on the constitutionality of the state’s charter school law, the Tennessean reports. In a legal memorandum drafted last week, Borkowski concluded that Tennessee’s decade-old charter law “seems to impose increased costs on local governments with no offsetting subsidy from the state,” which he said violates the Tennessee Constitution. The memo provides a potential basis for Metro and local districts of the state’s largest cities to mount a legal challenge of the law that allowed charters to open in Tennessee. Nashville’s foremost champion of charter schools, Mayor Karl Dean, simply called Borkowski’s opinion “interesting” and stated “the attorney whose opinion matters most on this is the Attorney General of the State of Tennessee.”

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O'Connor: Civics Education Answer to Politicization of Courts

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, speaking Monday to the National Conference of State Legislatures, urged lawmakers to help improve civics education in their states' schools. The former justice, who spearheaded the iCivics program, says the increasing politicization of the country's courts is a problem and that better civics education could help reverse that trend. WDEF News 12 has the story.

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ABA Announces 2014 Law Day Theme

The ABA today announced the theme for the 2014 Law Day. In recognition of the approaching 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the theme "American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters" calls on every American to reflect on the importance of a citizen’s right to vote and the challenges that remain to ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to participate in our democracy. Watch for additional information, planning materials and other resources coming soon.

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Bar Foundation Accepting Grant Requests

The Memphis Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the Memphis Bar Association (MBA), is accepting grant applications from non-profit organizations for law-related programs and activities that further the foundation’s mission of increasing public awareness of the legal profession, promoting social justice, promoting legal education and recognizing professionalism among members of the bar. The deadline to apply is Aug. 23. Contact MBA Executive Director Anne Fritz at (901) 527-3575 or afritz@memphisbar.org for more information and a grant application.

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TBA Wins Top Awards for Programming

The Tennessee Bar Association today was recognized with two of the top awards from the Tennessee Society of Association Executives. The TBA’s Diversity Job Fair was named an Award of Excellence recipient and the association’s statewide series on Balancing Civility & Free Expression was named winner of the Associations Advance Tennessee Award. The TBA’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity worked with TBA Programs Director Lynn Pointer to produce the job fair, while TBA Public Education Coordinator Liz Todaro worked with the Public Education Committee to produce the civility series. “These programs have both well supported and well received by the Tennessee legal community,” TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur said, “but it is also gratifying to receive this recognition from our peers in the association world.”

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TBA Volunteers Take Part in Teen Law Camp

TBA Public Education volunteers last week had the opportunity to work with a group of highly motivated students from across the state, helping them explore different aspects of the law and become more informed about educational and career paths they may want to pursue. The 20 students were participants at Law Camp, an annual event hosted by Lipscomb University’s Institute for Law, Justice & Society and co-sponsored by law firms and legal organizations, including the TBA. Law Camp 2013 focused on issues related to the U.S. Civil Rights movement and the evolution of the right to vote, from the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution through current Supreme Court decisions. See photos from the program.

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Teens Gather at Lipscomb for Law Camp 2013

Each summer, Lipscomb University hosts high school students from across the state to participate in Law Camp, which offers exposure to various aspects of the legal profession. Volunteers from the TBA Public Education Committee worked closely with Lipscomb’s Institute for Law, Justice & Society this year to organize and deliver sessions throughout the week-long camp, held on the university's campus in Nashville. 

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Attorneys Honored at 2013 Lawyers Luncheon

Attorneys from across Tennessee were recognized for outstanding works Friday (June 14) during the Lawyers Luncheon at the TBA Annual Convention in Nashville. Among those honored were:

• The late Elizabeth T. Collins, a former Memphis lawyer, who posthumously received the TBA YLD Fellows' William M. Leech Public Service Award.
• Knoxville lawyer Daniel Headrick, who received the Justice Joseph W. Henry Award for his Tennessee Bar Journal article, “How to Act During a Deposition.” Headrick also received the Larry Dean Willks Leadership Award later that day from the members of his Leadership Law class.
• Supreme Court Justice Janice M. Holder, who received the Justice Frank F. Drowota III Outstanding Judicial Service Award for her work with lawyers’ assistance programs and access to justice issues.
• Students Alyssa Neuhof and Jeff Carter for their winning video productions submitted to the TBA's YouTube Video Contest.

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Court Presents Cases for Boys and Girls State

The Tennessee Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Cookeville and Nashville this week as part of the SCALES Project. During the sessions, participants in the Boys State and Girls State programs will learn about the court system and the specific facts of the case they will hear. A total of four cases will be heard over a two-day period, with about 300 students sitting in on each session. In addition to the court’s presentation, the 1,200 Boys State and Girls State participants will learn about city, county and state government though hands-on learning and role-playing. The court is sitting at the invitation of Circuit Court Judge John J. Maddux Jr. of Cookeville, who has served as Tennessee Boys’ State chair for nearly 30 years.

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Haslam Signs School Gun Bill

Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a bill to allow teachers with law enforcement training to carry weapons in classrooms, Nooga reports. Introduced a month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the bill makes confidential which teachers are armed and dictates the kinds of ammunition allowed.

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Appeals Court Backs MNPS in Rezoning Ruling

A federal appeals court has upheld U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp’s prior ruling that found Metro Nashville Public Schools’ (MNPS) controversial student assignment plan did not represent deliberate racial segregation, the Tennessean reports. The opinion, issued today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, states that the rezoning plan did not have a “segregative intent” and passes constitutional muster even though it did lead to more racially divided schools. The decision marks another victory for MNPS in the four-year legal battle waged after it rezoned African-American students who live in parts of Bordeaux closer to their homes in the historically low-performing Pearl-Cohn High School cluster.

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TBA Honors 2013 YouTube Video Contest Winners

Students challenged to produce videos on the importance of a fair and impartial judiciary are being honored by the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) as a part of the national Law Day celebration. Middle and high school students from across Tennessee produced three-minute videos exploring the role of the judiciary, with a focus on issues related to separation of powers and protection of individual rights. The 2013 theme, “The Least Dangerous Branch: The Importance of a Fair & Impartial Judiciary,” centered on Alexander Hamilton’s premise in Federalist Paper No. 78 that judiciary is “the least dangerous” branch of government because it “has no influence over either the sword or the purse.”

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New Law Day Events Added to State Round Up

Law Day events continue this week with a number scheduled for tomorrow, May 1. Events added to the list of activities taking place across the state include a luncheon in Greeneville hosted by the Northeast Tennessee Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and an evening session with U.S. Attorney Bill Killian hosted by the Bradley County Bar Association. See the latest information on the TBA website.

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Students Reflect on Constitutional Rights Through Sumner Bar Program

Nine Hendersonville High School students and two students from the Paralegal Education program at Volunteer State Community College participated in the Sumner County Bar Association’s seminar, A Re-Examination of the Mary Surratt Trial. The students viewed the film “The Conspirator” and listened to a panel discussion on the constitutional rights that Surratt was denied during her trial. The panel was moderated by Judge Tom E. Gray and included Judge Dee David Gay, attorneys James E. Mackler, David Raybin and Justice Penny White. The Tennessean has the story.

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Law Day Events on Tap for This Week

Bar associations and legal organizations across the state are gearing up for this year’s Law Day with events and activities that involve opportunities for public service, awards for attorneys and members of the community, and lots of food and fun. The state’s four largest cities – Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville -- have luncheons planned on May 1, while other groups have already held events. Young lawyer groups with each of these bar associations also sponsored activities providing public and legal services to their communities. The TBA will announce the winners of its YouTube Video Contest and the winners of the statewide Law Day Art & Essay Competition on May 1 as well. See the line-up of events happening across the state

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