News

Memphis U.S. Attorney Nominated to Federal Bench

President Barack Obama has nominated U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III to be a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The nomination of Stanton, who has been the chief federal prosecutor for West Tennessee for five years, was announced yesterday by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, who recommended Stanton to the White House after convening a screening committee of local attorneys. Memphis Daily News has more.

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Community Forum Explores Social Security Issues

The year’s first Community Legal Forum – a joint initiative of the Bradley County Bar Association, the Bradley Governmental Law Library Commission and the Cleveland/Bradley Public Library – will take place June 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the library. Cleveland attorney Jack Tapper will lead the session, which is free and open to the public. The program will look at the basics of processing Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income claims as well as ways to increase Social Security benefits for married, divorced and widowed spouses, the Cleveland Banner reports.

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Water Wars Return to the High Court

Water wars return to the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit Mississippi hopes to bring against Tennessee, SCOTUSblog reports. The dispute centers on water pumped by the city of Memphis from an aquifer that spans the states’ borders. Mississippi is seeking rights to the water and $615 million in damages. The U.S. solicitor general weighed in last week with a recommendation that the court deny Mississippi’s motion to file the suit, arguing that until the water is apportioned, there can be no claim of inequitable apportionment.

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Holmes Named New Federal Magistrate

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee has announced that Barbara D. Holmes has been selected to replace Magistrate Judge Juliet Griffin, who will be retiring July 31. Holmes is currently head of h3gm’s Commercial Bankruptcy and Reorganization Practice Group. She has more than 25 years of experience with restructuring and insolvency matters and commercial litigation in state and federal courts.

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Senate Has Confirmed Just 2 Judges in 2015

The Senate has confirmed just two of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the federal courts in 2015, a remarkably slow pace even by the standards of Congress, the New York Times law blog reports. The minuscule number of confirmations this year follows a burst of Senate approvals in the back half of 2014, a moment when Democrats still controlled the Senate and were no longer hindered by the Republican power to filibuster after deploying the so-called “nuclear option.”

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Yates Confirmed as U.S. Deputy Attorney General

Sally Quillian Yates, most recently the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, was confirmed yesterday as deputy attorney general. The Senate vote was 84-12. Yates spent 25 years as the lead prosecutor in the Northern District of Georgia. She will join the U.S. Department of Justice as Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch’s second-in-command. The Atlanta Business Journal has the story.

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Justices Still Oppose Video in High Court

Americans overwhelmingly support filming arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices themselves do not. NewsWorks describes the justices’ arguments: Anthony Kennedy says it sets the Court apart, Antonin Scalia worries about misleading soundbites, and Chief Justice John Roberts is concerned that lawyers will grandstand. Even Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor are opposed to the idea now, although both supported at least considering cameras before their appointment to the high court. Gavel Grab has more.

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Court Enters Interstate Marijuana Dispute

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked for the views of the Obama administration on a dispute between three states over Colorado’s 2012 legalization of marijuana. The action is a sign that the high court may be interested in the dispute, the Blog of Legal Times reports. The suit, brought by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma, does not challenge the legalization of marijuana but questions the manufacture and sale of the drug across state lines.

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New Magistrate Judge Takes Office in East Tennessee

Johnson City attorney Clifton L. Corker was sworn in as U.S. magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee in a private ceremony Thursday in Greenville. A graduate of the College of William & Mary's Marshall-Wythe School of Law, Corker will serve an eight-year term before becoming eligible for reappointment, the Johnson City Press reports.

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Conflict of Interest Keeps Solicitor Off Gay Marriage Case

When it is Tennessee’s turn to present its same-sex marriage case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Associate Solicitor General Joseph Whalen will take the floor, though it normally would be Solicitor General Andree Blumstein. According to a spokesperson, Blumstein has not had any involvement with the case because before she joined the office she was a partner at Sherrard & Roe. Another partner there, Bill Harbison, argued on behalf of gay couples before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Blumstein would have had to argue against the couples and against her former colleague, which would have created a conflict of interest, the Tennessean reports.

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U.S. Senate Approves Lynch Nomination

The five-month battle to choose President Barack Obama’s next attorney general came to a close today when the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Loretta Lynch, CNN reports. Ten Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, joined Democrats in the 56-43 vote to make Lynch, 55, the first African-American female attorney general in U.S. history. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, was the only senator not to vote. Lynch, a two-time U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, will replace Eric Holder.

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Judge OKs Commission’s Opening Prayers

U.S. District Judge Harry Mattice has rejected a constitutional challenge to the prayers that open Hamilton County Commission meetings, though he will allow a local man to sue over his expulsion from a commission meeting. Thomas Joseph Coleman says he was forced to leave a commission meeting in July 2012 after complaining he was not allowed to deliver the opening prayer, WDEF reports.

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Supreme Court: Suspension Too Lenient for Sex-Addicted Lawyer

The Tennessee Supreme Court has rejected as too lenient a 30-day suspension of the law license of Knoxville attorney Robert Vogal, who admitted to a sexual relationship with an indigent addict — an ethical lapse that Vogel blamed on sex addiction, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. In a rare move, the court is stepping in to hold its own hearing on what Vogel’s fate should be. Records from the U.S. District Court in Knoxville and the state Board of Professional Responsibility reveal Vogal continued to practice law in Knoxville and several East Tennessee counties while the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General carried out a secret probe of his actions. The result in both probes kept Vogal’s law license intact, albeit temporarily suspended, and netted him no ban on practicing in U.S. District Court, although he can no longer serve as a court-appointed attorney for the poor.

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Federal Court Speeds up 'Pro Se' Cases

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in Memphis sees one of the highest numbers of pro se filings – nearly 41 percent of all cases – and is one of the slowest in the country to close cases. To address these delays, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Diane K. Vescovo has implemented recommendations from a federal team that reviewed the matter, adding a fourth full-time employee and a new part-time person to screen filings for merit among other changes. Read more in the Commercial Appeal.

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Lynch Vote Delayed in Senate Impasse

A vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch has again been delayed as U.S. senators battle over an abortion-related provision in an anti-human trafficking bill, Fox News reports. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Democrats must help pass the bill before he will schedule a vote on Lynch.

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AG to Call for Lower Proof Standard in Civil Rights Cases

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says that he will soon call on Congress to lower the standard of proof in federal civil rights cases, to allow federal prosecution where local authorities are unable or unwilling to get a conviction. The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it found insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager in Florida. In a written statement, government lawyers said their decision in the case was "limited strictly to the department's inability to meet the high legal standard" in the civil rights statutes. WRCB has more from NBC News.

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Senate Judiciary Postpones AG Confirmation Vote

U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch’s Senate Judiciary Committee vote has been postponed two weeks, the National Law Journal reports. Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said yesterday that he was dissatisfied with Lynch’s written answers this week in response to committee members’ posthearing questions and planned to send follow up questions to get additional clarification. The chairman’s decision sent the committee into a round of bickering, with Democrats accusing Republicans of unnecessary delay and Republicans defending the wait as business as usual.

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Senators Seek Majority Vote for Nominations

Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mike Lee of Utah have introduced a resolution to change U.S. Senate rules governing the approval of presidential nominations, Chattanoogan.com reports. According to a joint statement, the resolution “would establish by rule the Senate tradition of approving presidential nominations of Cabinet members and judges by a simple majority vote, which existed from the time Thomas Jefferson wrote the rules in 1789 until 2003, when Democrats began filibustering federal circuit court of appeals nominees.”

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Waller Partner Nominated for Federal Judgeship

President Barack Obama has nominated Waller partner Waverly Crenshaw to replace retiring District Court Judge William Joseph Haynes Jr. on the federal bench in Nashville, the Nashville Post reports. After graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1981, Crenshaw worked as an assistant attorney general. He became Waller's first African-American attorney and partner in 1990. Crenshaw focuses his practice on employment law and, according to the firm, has grown that practice from two to more than 15 attorneys. His was one of four judicial appointments announced by the Obama administration yesterday.

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Justices Once Open to Cameras in Court Reconsider

Two Supreme Court justices who once seemed open to the idea of cameras in the courtroom said Monday they have reconsidered those views, the Associated Press reports. The move dashes whatever hope there was that April’s historic arguments over gay marriage might be televised. In separate appearances, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said allowing cameras might lead to grandstanding that could fundamentally change the nature of the high court. WRCB-TV has the AP story.

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Obama Budget Has $182M for New Nashville Courthouse

President Barack Obama today released a federal budget that includes $181.5 million to build a new courthouse in downtown Nashville. That provision means Nashville is as close as it has ever been to receiving a new home for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Though Congress must approve the funding, Sen. Lamar Alexander holds a key position on the Senate’s Appropriations Committee and has pledged to “work to make sure [the courthouse] is finally funded this year.” Other members of the state's congressional delegation, as well as the Tennessee Bar Association, also support funding for the new courthouse.

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Opinion: Find Compromise for Judicial Confirmation Process

Almost a month into the 114th Senate and the new Republican majority still doesn’t know what to do about filibusters of judicial nominations, according to Bloomberg News columnist Jonathan Bernstein. In an opinion piece republished in the Columbia Daily Herald, Berstein explains his idea of a compromise that would prevent blockades of nominations by the minority party, but would also give some check against easy confirmations.

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AG Nominee Picks Up GOP Support

Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch picked up her first Republican endorsement Thursday en route to likely confirmation as the first black woman in the nation's top law enforcement job. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated that Lynch was an “exceptionally well-qualified candidate and a very good person, to boot.” Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona also said they were likely to support her. Lynch needs only two Republican votes on the panel if all Democrats back her. From there, her nomination would move to the full Senate, where she also is likely to win approval. WRCB has more from the Associated Press.

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Stay Issued In Alabama Same Sex Marriage Case

Two days after a federal judge overturned Alabama's ban on same-sex marriages, a 14-day stay was granted on behalf of the suit's sole defendant, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, WMSV reports. Strange moved for a stay of the order, pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on similar cases in other states. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore also commented on the ruling, stating in a letter to Gov. Robert Bently that a federal court ruling doesn't bind Alabama judges. Moore’s letter said he stood with the governor “to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority,” and that that the institution of marriage is being destroyed by federal courts using “specious pretexts” such as the equal protection, due process and full faith and credit clauses. The ABA Journal has more.

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U.S Attorney’s Office Celebrates 225 Year

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee recently celebrated the 225th birthday of the U.S. Attorney’s Office by holding a reception in Knoxville. The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the office, directing the President to appoint “a meet person learned in the law to act as an attorney for the United States” in each federal district. The Eastern District of Tennessee is the largest office in the state, encompassing 41 of the 95 counties, spanning 420 miles, and serving over 2.6 million people. The Hamilton County Herald has more.

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