News

DOJ’s Public Integrity Chief May Be Heading to Nashville

According to Nashville Post sources, the head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section is coming to Nashville. Jack Smith, who has led the section since 2010, reportedly will become the second in charge in the U.S. Attorney’s office here. An official announcement is expected later this week. During Smith’s tenure in office, the section prosecuted former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New York Congressman Michael Grimm. But it came under fire for its handling of cases against John Edwards and Ted Stevens.

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Process Set for Selecting New Magistrate Judge

The Judicial Conference of the United States has authorized the appointment of a full-time magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Nashville. The new magistrate will replace Judge Juliet Griffin, who is retiring. Applications must be submitted only by applicants personally and must be received no later than 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 17.

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Mayor Serving on Merit Selection Panel

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland has been named to the merit selection panel for choosing a new U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the Cleveland Banner reports. Chattanooga attorney Sam Elliott is serving as chairman of the nine-member panel tasked with filling retiring Magistrate William Carter’s position. Rowland said the initial group of applications had been narrowed and five nominations would be selected from this smaller pool.

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Lawmakers Urge SCOTUS to Allow Cameras in the Courtroom

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to implement video recording of oral arguments, the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill reports. The congressmen’s remarks came after Chief Justice John Roberts’ year-end report made no direct mention of introducing cameras in the courtroom, but did say that the court is “understandably circumspect in introducing change to a court system that works well.” Connolly told the paper that the court “is a human institution...a branch of government… [that] needs to come into the 21st century.” In an editorial supporting cameras in the court, columnist Marsha Mercer looks at the issues involved. Tri-Cities.com carried the piece.

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Corker Supports McDonough Nomination

Sen. Bob Corker yesterday announced his support for Travis McDonough, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Judge Curtis Collier on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, the Times Free Press reports. “Travis McDonough is well-respected in Chattanooga, and I look forward to supporting his nomination,” Corker said in an email. Tennessee’s senior senator Lamar Alexander said he was looking “forward to learning more about…McDonough and his interest in serving.” The White House says that McDonough’s fate now lies with the Senate as his name has officially been submitted.

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Apply for Western District Court Vacancy by Jan. 16

Lawyers interested in filling the U.S. District Court seat now held by Judge Samuel H. Mays Jr.  should send their resumes to U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis. An announcement from the congressman says that Mays has requested to take senior status in the Western District of Tennessee in July. Those interested in filling the vacancy should provide a resume, college and law school transcripts, and a letter describing the applicant’s history, experience in the federal courts and reasons for seeking the nomination. All materials should be sent to Cohen’s assistant Beanie Self no later than Jan. 16.

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Supreme Court Moving to Electronic Filing

The Supreme Court is moving toward a full and free-access system for all documents filed in cases before the Justices — a system expected to be working “as soon as 2016,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., revealed in his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary. The Court already receives some of its filings electronically, but the present arrangements do not include all filings. The Chief Justice’s annual report was dominated by a theme of technological advances and their impact on the operation of the courts, SCOTUSBlog reports.

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Tennessee Joins Immigration Lawsuit

Tennessee will join a lawsuit challenging recent immigration actions by President Barack Obama, the Tennessean reports. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said the suit is not really about immigration. “It is really more about the rule of law and the limitations that prevent the executive branch from taking over a role constitutionally reserved for Congress," he said. "The executive directives issued by the White House and Homeland Security conflict with existing federal law." Tennessee is the 25th state to join the suit, originally brought by the state of Texas.

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Senate to Consider Additional Judicial Nominees

Lawmakers negotiated Tuesday over a final batch of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees with Democrats hoping to win Senate confirmation for up to a dozen of them, the Associated Press reports. The Senate has approved 76 federal court of appeals and district court judges so far this year. Confirmation of 12 more would bring the total to 88 – the highest annual figure in 20 years. Senate leaders are hoping to end this year’s session as soon as tonight. WRCB-TV has the AP story.

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Circuits Split on Definition of ‘Applicant’

In her Journal column this month, Kathryn Reed Edge makes a prediction: "As the financial crisis wanes and fewer banks are plagued by their borrowers’ credit problems, we in the business are seeing the federal banking agencies gear up for an energetic assault on consumer compliance violations." And adding to the confusion that many bank compliance officers have in interpreting the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, she writes that two judicial circuits, the 6th and the 8th, "have split on a seemingly simple issue of the definition of 'applicant' under the ECOA." She explains the important differences and advises readers of her column "Bank On It" to watch the U.S. Supreme Court for an answer.

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Confirmations Up, Judicial Openings Down

The number of empty federal judgeships is now at its lowest level since President Obama’s first year in office, the Brennan Center reports from The Bulletin. As of Nov. 28, there were 56 federal court vacancies, of which 19 were considered judicial emergencies. The Senate is poised to conclude its most productive two-year period of judicial confirmations since the Clinton administration when it confirmed 128 judges during 1993-1994. The current Senate has confirmed 122 since January 2013, with more confirmations likely upcoming.

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The Obama Brief

CNN legal analyst and New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Toobin analyzes the judicial legacy President Barack Obama is leaving on the D.C circuit and federal courts around the country. Obama has had 280 judges confirmed, which represents about a third of the federal judiciary. Two of his choices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, were nominated to the Supreme Court; 53 were named to the circuit courts of appeals, 223 to the district courts, and two to the Court of International Trade. Obama’s judicial nominees look different from their predecessors, as well. Forty-two per cent of his judgeships have gone to women, compared to 22 per cent of George W. Bush’s judges and 29 per cent of Bill Clinton’s. Thirty-six per cent of President Obama’s judges have been minorities, compared with 18 cent for Bush and 24 percent for Clinton. Additionally, Obama has increased the number of openly gay judges to 10.

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Court: No New Cases Granted Cert

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued additional orders from its Nov. 25 conference but did not grant review to any new cases. It denied review to several appeals including an Arizona case testing whether an inmate was entitled to a federal court hearing on whether the judge who presided at his trial was biased against him; a case seeking to clarify whether police can make a brief stop and engage in limited questioning of a person seen leaving a home about to be searched; and one of two cases looking at whether a company accused of inducing a patent infringement claim can use as a defense a belief that the patent was not valid. SCOTUSblog has more on those decisions. Monday also was the first day of the court’s December sitting. The hearing list for the month is available here.

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Ginsburg Back on Bench for Monday Arguments

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was back on the bench today, five days after she had a stent implanted to clear a blocked artery. The Associated Press reports that she questioned lawyers in “in her usual exacting fashion.” Ginsburg was hospitalized last Tuesday after experiencing discomfort during an exercise session. The 81-year-old Ginsburg is the oldest justice. She has been on the court since 1993 and has not missed a day, despite two earlier bouts with cancer in 1999 and 2009, and the death of her husband in 2010.

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Court Considers Online Threats

From the violent lyrics of rap music to the crude comments of teenagers in video-game chat rooms, the U.S. Supreme Court struggled today over where to draw the line between free speech and illegal threats in the digital age. The debate came in the case of a Pennsylvania man convicted of posting violent threats on Facebook about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a school and slitting the throat of an FBI agent. Defense lawyers said the man was merely "venting" and did not mean to threaten anyone, while the government argued the standard should be whether his words would make a reasonable person feel threatened not what he intended. The Citizen Tribune has the story from the Associated Press.

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DOJ Collects Nearly $25B in 2014

The Justice Department says it collected $24.7 billion in settlements and penalties in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, WRCB reports from the Associated Press. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the amount includes both criminal penalties and civil settlements and is more than three times the $8 billion collected in the previous year, fiscal 2013. The total includes proceeds that were actually recovered in fiscal year 2014, even if the cases that yielded the money had been legally settled in prior years. It also includes civil debts collected on behalf of other federal agencies.

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Supreme Court Allows Kansas Same-Sex Marriage to Proceed

The U.S. Supreme Court has lifted a temporary stay and is allowing same-sex marriages to proceed in Kansas, the ABA Journal reports. The order vacates a stay issued Monday evening by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Kansas Supreme Court had stayed same-sex marriage in the state pending proceedings before the court, but a federal judge later ordered the state to begin issuing marriage licenses, a decision that was “a de facto circumvention” of the state litigation, the state argued in its emergency stay application. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas would have granted the stay application, according to the order.

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Obama to Nominate New York Prosecutor for AG

President Barack Obama will nomninate Brooklyn prosecutor Loretta Lynch for attorney general tomorrow, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said. Lynch, who would be the second woman to serve as attorney general and the second African-American to hold the position, is in her second stint as U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York. She was appointed by President Obama in 2010 and served in the same post from 1999 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. CNN has the story

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Summary of Court Actions This Week

During the first week of the U.S. Supreme Court’s November sitting, justices granted one new case dealing with water rights between Florida and Georgia and heard arguments in four. Yesterday, the court waded into the international dispute of whether a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem can list “Israel” as his place of birth on a passport and heard arguments in a securities law case. Today, the court heard arguments in a case testing whether whistleblowers are barred from making disclosures when prohibited by agency regulation, and a case questioning the timing of suits under the Truth in Lending Act. The court will hear two cases tomorrow – one testing the sweep of a law that seeks to protect criminal evidence from being destroyed and another looking at whether possession of a short-barreled shotgun should be treated as a violent felony. On Friday, the justices will consider additional petitions. SCOTUSblog has the ones to watch.

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2nd Law Firm Drops GOP’s Obama Suit

House Speaker John Boehner’s still-unfiled lawsuit against President Barack Obama is in more trouble, Politico reports. For the second time in two months, a major law firm has ceased work on the lawsuit, sources say. Attorney Bill Burck and the Quinn Emanuel firm halted preparations for the proposed suit in recent weeks, according to two sources familiar with the situation. Last month, the lawyer originally hired to pursue the case alleging that the President exceeded his constitutional power, David Rivkin of Baker Hostetler, made a similar exit. A spokesman for Boehner declined to discuss the relationship with Burck and Quinn Emanuel, but did say that GOP leaders are considering having the lawsuit filed by lawyers already on the House payroll.

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Former Solicitor General Shares Insights with UT Law Students

Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who argued many notable cases in front of the Supreme Court, spoke Friday to law students at the University of Tennessee. Clement talked about the challenges faced during his legal career and admitted that regardless of experience he "absolutely" gets nervous every time he goes before the Supreme Court. But nerves, he said, keep him from becoming complacent and force him to continue preparing right up until the day he appears before the justices. Wayne Dillingham, a 1983 graduate of the College of Law and former lawyer for the FBI, who also was at the lecture, said he hopes students came away with a more human perspective of what it is like to practice law at the highest level. The UT Daily Beacon has more.

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Special Opportunity for Supreme Court Admission

If admission to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court is one of your career goals, don’t miss the opportunity to make it a reality during the 31st Annual TBA Academy, Dec. 2-3, in Washington, D.C. A select group of Tennessee attorneys will be able to take part in a private ceremony before the court and enjoy other events in the nation's capital. A reception and celebration dinner kick off the Academy, which also includes the opportunity to earn three hours of CLE credit. The group will stay at the Hay Adams Hotel, located across from the White House. Interested candidates should complete the required forms by Oct. 27. For information and a step-by-step guide on how to sign up, visit the TBA website.

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Obama: AG Nomination Will Come After Election

President Barack Obama does not plan to announce his choice for attorney general before the November elections, the Associated Press reported today, possibly setting up a showdown for a lame duck session. The decision allegedly was made so that Senate Democrats could avoid taking potentially controversial positions on a specific nominee. Some Senate Republicans have called on the president to wait until the new Senate is seated in January before taking action. A White House official told the AP that the president has not yet decided who he wants to name to the post being vacated by Eric Holder. Those frequently mentioned include Solicitor General Don Verrilli, former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler and Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

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U.S. Supreme Court Lets Gay Marriage Rulings Stand

The U.S. Supreme Court today unexpectedly cleared the way for a dramatic expansion of gay marriage in the United States, the Associated Press reports. In declining to hear appeals from five states seeking to preserve bans on gay marriage, the court effectively made those marriages legal in Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia. Couples in six other states should be able to get married in short order as well since those states are covered by the same appellate rulings. Though today’s decision certainly was a boost to the gay marriage movement, the issue is far from settled. Challenges are still pending in 20 states and one appeals court may be poised to rule in favor of state bans, which would set up the first split among the circuits. Nashville lawyer Bill Harbison, who represents plaintiffs in a case from Tennessee pending in the Sixth Circuit, said he expects the Supreme Court to take up the case if the appeals court becomes the first to uphold a state ban. “Obviously we don’t know how the [Sixth] Circuit will rule, but indicators are that the Supreme Court would take a case if it went the other way,” Harbison said in an interview with Knoxnews.

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Paper: AG Confirmation Fractious Even Before It Begins

President Barack Obama has yet to reveal his choice to succeed Attorney General Eric Holder, but the Senate confirmation process already has become contentiousness, the Washington Post reports. With the midterm elections potentially shifting the balance of power in the chamber, some Republicans are arguing that hearings and votes on a new attorney general should be delayed until January. Democrats counter that Republicans should allow Obama to select his own cabinet. Holder’s decision to leave on the eve of a midterm election has no precedent in recent history, the paper reports – a fact that further complicates a confirmation process that has been a partisan flashpoint in recent years.

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