News

McConnell Renews Vow: Obama Will Not Fill Vacancy

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doubled down Tuesday on his pledge to block President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee from a confirmation hearing and vote this year, CQ Roll Call reports. “On that sad day when we lost Justice Scalia, I made [a] pledge that Obama would not fill his seat,” McConnell said yesterday from the stage of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. When it comes to picking a Scalia successor, McConnell said, “That honor will go to Donald Trump next year.”

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Obama: Failure to Vote on Nominee Undermines Democracy

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama says the U.S. Senate’s refusal to hold an up-or-down vote on his Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland “could weaken our most important institutions, erode public trust and undermine our democracy.” He also argues that subjecting nominees to “an endless cycle of political retaliation” leaves important legal questions unanswered and makes Americans more cynical about government. As of today, Garland has been waiting 125 days for a vote. He now ties Justice Louis Brandeis for the longest wait. Obama also used the editorial to call on the Senate to agree to terms for considering future nominees within a set period of time. The ABA Journal has more on the proposal.

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DOJ Asks Court to Rehear Immigration Case

The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday asked the Supreme Court for a rehearing of a case challenging President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration as soon as a ninth justice is appointed. The administration said there should be a definitive decision on the merits of the executive actions instead of the 4-4 split by the high court that left an appellate court decision striking the actions in place, but did not set precedent on the issue. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

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Criminal Justice Overhaul on Tap for September

The U.S. House of Representatives will take up six bills designed to overhaul the criminal justice system in September, Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday. The Wisconsin Republican says that both parties went too far on the criminal code in the 1990s. “We’ve learned that there are better ways to dealing with these problems than locking up someone for 20 or 30 years. You end up ruining their lives, ruining their families, hurting communities. And then when they try to reenter into society, they’re destitute,” Ryan told National Public Radio. Roll Call has more on the story.

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Crenshaw Joins Middle District Court at Ceremonies

Nashville attorney Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr. was sworn in as the newest member of the U.S District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee during an investiture ceremony today in Nashville. Appearing before several hundred supporters, Crenshaw spoke of his journey to the bench and the important mentors and other figures in his development as an attorney. U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, as well as U.S Rep. Jim Cooper, Judge Richard Dinkins and Nashville attorneys Aubrey Harwell and Robert Boston addressed the audience before Crenshaw was administered the oath by Chief Judge Kevin Sharp. TBA President Jason Long presented Crenshaw a gavel to welcome him to the bench. See photos from the event.

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Ginsburg: Trump Comments Were ‘Ill-advised’

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged her critical comments on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign were “ill-advised,” expressing her regret in a statement today, Politico reports. “On reflection, my recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised and I regret making them. Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future I will be more circumspect,” she said.

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Transgender Bathroom Case Lands on Courthouse Steps

A Virginia school board hoping to block a transgender teen from using the boy’s bathroom at his high school took its legal fight to the Supreme Court yesterday, Politico reports. The move marks the first time that the legal battle over transgender students’ bathrooms use has been brought to the court. The board is challenging a federal appeals court decision that (1) directed the school to honor the teen’s preferences and (2) rejected a request to block the ruling while the school appeals to the high court. In response, the school board filed an emergency application asking the Supreme Court to suspend the decision.

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3 Attorneys Earn Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Award

The National Civil Rights Museum will presents its Freedom Award to five recipients who have worked to improve human rights in the United States and around the world, the Memphis Business Journal reports. Lawyers among the group are Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who takes on high profile cases pro bono; Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and a professor at the New York University School of Law; and Damon Jerome Keith, the longest serving judge on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The awards event, set for Oct. 20, also will feature a tribute to “the Memphis 13” – a group of first graders who desegregated four elementary schools in the city.

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Lynch Accepts FBI Findings, Ends Clinton Email Case

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said this afternoon that she will accept the FBI’s recommendation to not bring charges against former Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, CNN reports. The decision marks the end of the legal case. Tomorrow, FBI Director James Comey is set to appear before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and is expected to face tough questions about the agency’s investigation and decision not to recommend charges.

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Former Congressman, Federal Judge Dies at 90

Abner Mikva, a liberal stalwart from Illinois who served in all three branches of government and mentored a young Barack Obama died Monday at the age of 90. Mikva valued bipartisanship and friendship over politics even as he served in the Illinois General Assembly and U.S. House of Representative and as advisor to former president Bill Clinton, the Associated Press reports. Mikva also served on U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for 15 years, the last four as chief judge. WRCB-TV has the story.

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DOJ Seeking Prosecutors to Work Without Pay

The Associated Press reports that U.S. attorneys’ offices around the country have been offering unpaid jobs for entry level prosecutors with promises of training and invaluable work experience. But critics say the unpaid jobs threaten racial diversity in federal prosecutors’ offices and set a bad precedent for labor standards. The association representing associate U.S. attorneys goes a step further, saying the unpaid positions violate the law. MSNBC has the story.

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FBI: No Charges Recommended in Clinton Email Probe

FBI Director James Comey announced today that the FBI will be recommending that no charges be brought against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while secretary of state. Comey stated that the bureau “did not find clear evidence” that anyone being investigated intended to violate laws, but said there was evidence that the parties "were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” And despite “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information,” Comey concluded that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. The findings now go to the U.S. Justice Department. The ABA Journal has more on the story while ABC News has the full transcript of Comey's remarks.

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5th Circuit: Machine Guns Not Protected by Constitution

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a federal law that generally bars the possession of machine guns, the ABA Journal reports. The court based its decision on a reading of District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun. But the case also distinguished between guns used in the military and those possessed at home for self-defense, the appeals court said. The plaintiff in the case wanted to build an M-16 machine gun from components of the AR-15.

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Judge Crenshaw Investiture Set for July 15

The legal community is invited to attend the investiture of Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr. as U.S. district judge for the Middle District of Tennessee on July 15 at 1:30 p.m. The ceremony will take place in Room 207 on level 2 of the Music City Center in Nashville. A reception will follow. Organizers advise allowing sufficient time to pass through a security screening. Please RSVP by July 8 to 615-695-2877.

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Court Audio Recordings Find New Home

After months of uncertainty about its future, the Oyez Project, a free repository of more than 10,000 hours of U.S. Supreme Court oral-argument audio and other court resources, has found a new home. The project’s founder, Jerry Goldman, who is retiring soon, told the National Law Journal that a new arrangement with Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute and Justia, an online publisher of legal information, will keep Oyez alive.

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Federal Law CLE to Focus on Pre-Trial Issues

This year’s annual Federal Practice CLE on July 28 will focus on pre-trial issues, including presentations on pleadings, pre-answer motions and related strategies. Additional sessions will explore amendments to the Federal Civil Rules, which took effect in December 2015, and their impact on practioners. Finally, the program will look at rules related to expert disclosures and alternative dispute resolution techniques.

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Ruling Clarifies When Enhanced Federal Sentences Can Be Applied

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday clarified the criteria for using state law convictions to impose enhanced federal sentences, ruling that a prior crime can be used "only if its elements are the same as, or narrower than, those of the generic offense." In a 5-3 opinion authored by Justice Kagan, the court reversed a lower court decision in Mathis v. United States. That decision had allowed inclusion of a burglary conviction under Iowa law to trigger Armed Career Criminal Act sentence enhancements. The majority opinion found the Iowa statute covered a broader range of conduct than that covered by generic burglary and set out alternative ways of satisfying the locational elements of the crime, according to a report in Jurist.

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Prosecutors Drop FedEx Prescription Drug Case

Criminal charges alleging FedEx knowingly delivered illegal prescription drugs to dealers and addicts were dropped suddenly last week after prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss all charges. FedEx was indicted in 2014 and the trial began last Monday. In court on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer said FedEx was “factually innocent” and had repeatedly attempted to identify the customer in question but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was unwilling or unable to provide the information. The Times Free Press has more.

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ABA Ranks Garland as ‘Well Qualified’

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has finished its peer review of Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, and has rated him as “well qualified.” In announcing the rating today, ABA President Paulette Brown called on the Senate to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities to consider and act promptly on the nominee. Read her full statement.

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Federal Judge Bans Court Filings by Prisoner

Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan has issued a permanent injunction barring Eric Houston “from filing any motion, letter or civil action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee without first obtaining approval.” The move comes after Houston filed more than 100 civil petitions in federal courts across the United States – all handwritten and filled with profanities, Knoxnews reports. The injunction also threatens to hold the imprisoned drug dealer in contempt if he violates the order. In taking the unusual stance, Varlan explained that “the court has attempted to review the filings to determine the nature of (Houston’s) allegations, but due to the partially indecipherable handwriting, the threatening language, the profanity, and the nature of the filings — some of which were submitted on what appears to be toilet paper — the court has been unable to fully discern (his) allegations.”

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6th Circuit Launches New Website

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit will launch a new website next Monday but has released the web link for interested individuals to review the site in advance. The new site is based on a national model template for federal court websites, which some courts are already using. The new format promises to make things easier on practitioners, especially those who practice in multiple jurisdictions, by trying to include a measure of standardization between the various sites. The existing site can be seen here. Comments about the new format can be sent by email to the webmaster.

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Searches Allowed Based on Outstanding Warrants

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled 5-3 that police can seize evidence from what would otherwise be an unconstitutional search if they first discover that the suspect has one or more outstanding arrest warrants. Opponents of the decision cited the fact that, in some cities, thousands of people have arrest warrants pending against them, mostly for traffic violations as insignificant as unpaid parking tickets. In a strongly-worded dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.” The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Court Declines to Hear Challenge to Assault Weapon Bans

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear a case challenging gun control laws enacted in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The decision, handed down with no additional explanation as to the court’s reasoning, allows assault weapons bans to stand in New York and Connecticut. Gun rights groups had challenged laws in those states banning certain semi-automatic weapons and restrictions on bullet magazines. The Commercial Appeal has more.

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Outgoing Solicitor General Reflects on Career, Criticism

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who is stepping down from his post this month, recalls five years of legal “high drama” in The New York Times. Verrilli’s tenure of 37 Supreme Court arguments includes the 2012 case challenging the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law. Despite a "stunning" win in the case, Verrilli reflects on the scathing reviews of his work. “It’s not a good or healthy thing to have your sense of self-worth determined by what other people are saying,” he said. 

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Report: 10% of Federal Judgeships Are Vacant

Nearly 10 percent of federal judgeships are vacant, according to the Washington Post. The number of unfilled judgeships is nearly twice as high as the number of vacancies at this point of President George W. Bush’s presidency. But the report notes that while some judges and lawmakers believe the situation is a “judicial emergency,” a spokeswoman for the Judiciary Committee chairman called it a “made-up crisis.”  

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