News

New Magistrate Judges Named for Middle District

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee has announced that Alistair Newbern and Jeffery S. “Chip” Frensley have been selected to fill the magistrate judge positions being vacated by retiring judges John S. Bryant and E. Clifton Knowles, respectively. Newbern, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School, will take office Aug. 31. Frensley has over 20 years of litigation experience in the areas of criminal defense, employment law and civil rights litigation. He will take office on Oct. 9. Read more about the new judges in this announcement from the court.

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Public Approval of Supreme Court Matches Low Point

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 42 percent job approval rating is down slightly from September 2015 and matches the low point in the Gallup poll's 16-year history. The earlier mark was recorded in 2005 just after the court allowed the use of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development. Among its other findings, the poll indicates that Democrats are still more likely than Republicans to approve of the court, though the differential has narrowed. Read more or view survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

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UT Law Professors Named to Civil Rights Committee

Two professors at the University of Tennessee College of Law have been appointed to the Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Val Vojdik, the Waller Lansden Distinguished Professor of Law, and Brian Krumm, associate professor of law and director of the college’s Business Law and Trademark Clinic, were selected as Knoxville’s sole representatives on the committee. They join two educators from Middle Tennessee State University, who were announced by that school last week.

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Judge Blocks Obama’s Transgender Directive

A federal judge in Texas yesterday blocked the Obama administration’s order that requires public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity. Texas and 12 other states had asked the court to halt the directive from May, the Texas Tribune reports. The move comes just days after the General Services Administration directed federal venues, including courthouses, prisons, Social Security Administration offices and Department of Veterans Affairs offices to let people use the restroom of their choice. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Justice Department sued North Carolina over a state law that requires people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates.

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Registration Open for Supreme Court Admissions Program

Registration is now open for the TBA Academy, which offers an exciting opportunity for Tennessee attorneys to be admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and network with some of the nation’s leading appellate practitioners. The 2016 TBA Academy will take place Nov. 28-30 in Washington, D.C., at The Hay Adams Hotel. Participating attorneys will be sworn in before the court in a private ceremony on Nov. 29. Registration forms and required materials must be submitted by Oct. 19. Learn more online or contact TBA Meetings Coordinator Therese Byrne, 615-277-3208 with any questions.

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ASCAP, BMI Join Forces to Fight Music Licensing Ruling

The leaders of ASCAP and BMI convened a private meeting Monday for Nashville’s songwriting and publishing community in a historic show of solidarity by the two competitors, the Tennessean reports. The performance rights organizations are banding together to fight a ruling by the U.S. Department of Justice regarding 100 percent licensing, which allows a copyright holder to license a song no matter how small a percentage of the copyright they own. The groups said they expect a protracted battle with the Justice Department. By contrast, the DOJ ruling has been applauded by music tech firms such as Google and Pandora, along with radio broadcasters and restaurants that license music.

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DEA Rejects Downgrading of Marijuana

The Obama administration has denied a bid by two Democratic governors to reconsider how marijuana is treated under federal drug control laws, National Public Radio reports. The move keeps the drug in the most restrictive category for law enforcement purposes. The DEA said the decision was based on the FDA’s finding that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use and remains highly vulnerable to abuse as the most commonly used illicit drug.

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Opinion: Senate GOP Inaction Puts Judiciary in Crisis

Nashville appellate lawyer Daniel Horwitz writes in the Tennessean that the U.S. Senate’s “unprecedented inaction” on judicial nominees has thrown the American judicial system into crisis. Horwitz argues that “large swaths of the federal judiciary are simply missing – resulting in excessive delays, exploding dockets and inconsistent application of the law in different parts of the country.” Nearly one-third of federal court vacancies are designated “judicial emergencies,” which means filings exceed 600 per judge. 

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Judge Trauger Named 2016 YWCA Honoree

The YWCA of Nashville & Middle Tennessee has named eight honorees for its 2016 Academy for Women of Achievement, including Judge Aleta Trauger, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. The distinction honors women who, through excellence and leadership in their chosen fields, serve as role models for other women. The honorees will be recognized at a special induction ceremony this fall at the Omni Nashville Hotel. Get more information about the event and how to purchase tickets on the YWCA website.

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Tennessee Athletes Take ‘Pay for Play’ to 6th Circuit

Tennessee college athletes will be before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati this week arguing they should be paid for the use of their names and images in the college sports industry and on television, the Tennessean reports. The athletes are asking a panel of three judges to reopen their case, which a Nashville federal judge dismissed last year. Ten former football and basketball athletes, many of whom attended Vanderbilt University or the University of Tennessee, filed a $5 million lawsuit in 2014 saying their images were used without their permission by the broadcast networks and eight NCAA conferences.

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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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