News

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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Senate Approves School Security Bill

The state Senate today approved legislation to allow teachers who have worked as police officers in the past to carry their guns with them at school. The measure was approved along with provisions that would keep parents from information about which teachers are carrying, or even if a school has any armed teachers. The Tennessean has the story.

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Legislature Approves Municipal Schools Bill

After much speculation about resistance to lifting the statewide ban on special school districts, a bill to do just that sailed through the Tennessee House and Senate on Monday, the Memphis Daily News reports. The legislation was approved 70-24 in the House before winning approval in the Senate on a 24-5 vote. If signed by the governor, the bill will permit municipal school districts in 29 cities, including the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County that have been seeking authority to establish their own school districts rather than merge with the Memphis city schools.

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Amended Guns in School Bill Passes

The amended version of the bill that would allow some school staff to carry their weapons in the classrooms passed the House Civil Justice Committee and the Senate Education Committee yesterday afternoon. The measure gives local school districts the final say about allowing employees to carry a weapon on school property, but an added amendment states that any staffer doing so must be certified as a police officer. Former police officers who are now teachers and criminal justice teachers who have extensive police training would qualify. WKRN has the story.

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Alternative Spring Break Activities Underway

Students from the University of Tennessee College of Law, Belmont University College of Law and University of Memphis School of Law are working throughout the month of March to help victims of domestic abuse as part of this year’s Alternative Spring Break (ASP). The students are working with immigrants who qualify for the U-visa program, which gives legal status to those who have been victims of violent crime and cooperate with law enforcement to bring perpetrators to justice. In addition to the official ASP program, a group of UT Law students is traveling to Fort Campbell as part of Vols for Vets, to offer legal assistance to service members and their families, while another group is teaching at-risk youth about the judicial system. Read more about these activities on the UT Law website.

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TBA Promotes Civics Across the State

The TBA and its Young Lawyers Division have been involved in a number of activities over the last month promoting civics and law-related education. On March 8, the YLD hosted a table at the Tennessee Conference for Social Studies. Thanks to YLD President David Veile; Shauna Billingsley, YLD District 11 Representative and chair of the TBA Public Education Committee’s Children’s Subcommittee; TBA Public Education Committee member Claudia Jack; and YLD Mock Trial Committee member Kristen Corn for taking time out of their busy schedules to staff the table and encourage elementary, high school and college instructors to include civics education in their lesson plans. In addition, during the State High School Mock Trial Competition, March 15-16, the YLD hosted a table with information about civics and law-related education programs offered for high school students in the state. This past week, the TBA partnered with Metro Nashville Public Schools to present a “Civics and Law Academy” at McGavock High School. Lawyers addressed students on issues such as federalism, sovereignty, separation of powers and privacy rights. Finally, this past Saturday, the Children’s Subcommittee of the TBA Public Education Committee hosted a Girl Scout Badge Blast focused on civics at Lipscomb University. Thanks to all who participated in these efforts. To get involved in similar activities in the future, please contact Billingsley at shauna.billingsley@franklintn.gov or (615) 550-6603.

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Still Time to Enter TBA Video Contest

Students can explore the idea that the judiciary is, as Alexander Hamilton wrote, "the least dangerous” branch of government in the Tennessee Bar Association’s Third Annual YouTube Video Contest. Middle school and high school students can win up to $500 in the contest by producing a three-minute video that explores this topic and addresses questions such as: (1) why is it important to have a judiciary that is independent of the legislative and executive branches; (2) how does this structure strengthen the doctrine of separation of powers; (3) how high should the walls between the branches be; (4) what happens when judges aren’t fair or impartial; or (5) considering the powers granted to the three branches and the checks and balances each has over the others, do you agree that the judiciary is the least dangerous branch? The deadline for middle school entries is Friday. High school students have until March 29. Questions? Contact Liz Todaro at the TBA.

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YLD Promotes Civics at Teachers’ Event

The TBA YLD will host a table at the Tennessee Conference for Social Studies March 8 from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cool Springs Marriott in Franklin. Volunteers are needed to help staff the table and encourage elementary, high school and college instructors to include civics education in their lesson plans. All materials will be provided. The annual conference is sponsored by the Tennessee Council for the Social Studies, which is devoted to providing information, resources and support for educators interested in or involved with social studies curriculum. To learn more about the conference or to volunteer please contact Shauna Billingsley at shauna.billingsley@franklintn.gov or (615) 550-6652.

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Entries for Law Day Contests Now Being Accepted

The 2013 Law Day Art & Essay Contest is underway. Sponsored by the TBA Young Lawyers Division, the competition this year will center on the theme "Realizing the Dream: Equality for All." This provides an opportunity for students to explore civil and human rights movements in America and the impact they have had in promoting the ideal of equality under the law. Students also are asked to consider what remains to be done to rectify injustice in society, including eliminating all forms of discrimination, putting an end to human trafficking and ending other violations of human rights. Art and essay submissions depicting this theme must be submitted by April 12.

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Governors Agree on Importance of Civility

More than 300 people heard Gov. Bill Haslam and former governors Phil Bredesen and Don Sundquist take on the topic of civility and effective governance during a lively panel discussion sponsored by the TBA's Public Education Committee Thursday in Knoxville. The panel was moderated by former TBA President Bill Haltom, who has just completed a book about civility and politics using former U.S. Senator and ambassador to China Howard Baker as the exemplar. All three governors acknowledged the powerful example of respect and cooperation set by Baker, who was in the audience accompanied by his wife Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker. "We cannot preserve our democracy without finding the right balance between civility and free speech," TBA President Jackie Dixon said of the event, which was the final of three held across the state and made possible by a grant from the American Bar Association Division for Public Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The TBA partnered with the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, the University of Tennessee College of Law and the First Amendment Center for the event. Read more from Knoxnews.

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Balancing Civility and Free Expression — Knoxville

Civility & Effective Governance

More than 300 people packed the Howard Baker Center on the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus Thursday night (Feb. 21) to hear three governors offer their thoughts on civility and free speech. Memphis lawyer Bill Haltom moderated the session that featured Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and former Tennessee governors Phil Bredesen and Don Sundquist. The event was part of a statewide series sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association, supported by a grant from the American Bar Association Division for Public Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Learn more about the Knoxville program from the TBA or from coverage in Knoxnews.

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Firearm Bill Delayed, Online School Enrollment Cap Passed

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey delayed a vote on legislation that declares Tennessee has a right to nullify federal gun laws and charge federal agents who enforces them with committing a felony. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, is presented as an amendment to the Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act of 2009. In a wrap-up of recent legislative news, Knoxnews also reported on a proposal to tighten enrollment requirements for online-only schools, which was approved in the House Education Committee. The proposal would allow online schools to start with an enrollment of 1,500 and expand so long as they meet performance requirements.

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