News

Justice Department Has No U.S. Attorneys in Place

Though U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has prioritized aggressive law enforcement, there is not a single U.S. attorney in place across the country one month after Sessions dismissed the remaining Obama-era U.S. attorneys, the Washington Post reports. The Justice Department also lacks many heads of top units, including civil rights, criminal and national security divisions. Filling the vacancies has been complicated by the absence of a deputy attorney general as well. Rod J. Rosenstein has been nominated but not yet confirmed for the role.
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Federal Judge Resigned from Lifetime Post to Pursue Civil Rights Cases

Former U.S. District judge Kevin Sharp of Nashville resigned his post in January to return to private practice and take on civil rights cases, the Tennessean reports. Sharp held a lifetime appointment on the bench, but had issues with certain parts of the system during his six-year tenure, such as mandatory minimum sentences. “As a lawyer I can be more proactive, I can say things I want to say,” said Sharp. “I can advocate for positions that I want to advocate for.”
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Tennessee AG Joins States Supporting Trump Travel Ban

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery filed an amicus brief with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of President Donald Trump’s updated travel ban, the Tennessean reports. That adds Slatery to a list of officials in 15 states who believe the decision from the U.S. District Court in Hawaii should be reversed. That decision halted the president’s second version of the travel ban.
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Gorsuch Sworn In as Supreme Court Justice

Neil Gorsuch was sworn in today as the newest justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, NBC News reports. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who Gorsuch once clerked for, administered the judicial oath. In another ceremony, Gorsuch took an oath administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, with the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s family in attendance. 
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Senate Republicans Kill Filibuster to Pave Way for Gorsuch

Senate Republicans deployed the “nuclear option” today, permanently changing rules to bypass a Democratic filibuster and clear the way for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority vote, the New York Times reports. Republicans needed 60 votes to confirm Gorsuch without changing the rules, but could only secure 55, leading to the rule change. Knoxnews confirms that Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker voted in support of the change.

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Democrats Have Votes to Filibuster Gorsuch

Democrats in the U.S. Senate secured enough votes today to block U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, setting the stage for Republicans to enact the “nuclear option” and change the rules regarding the filibuster, the Washington Post reports. Four Democrats joined the effort to block Gorsuch today. That followed Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings, which Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) characterized as “excruciatingly evasive.” Republicans could confirm Gorsuch by voting to eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.
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GOP Could Consider Alternative Strategies to Confirm Gorsuch

Other than taking the “nuclear option” — which would change the rules regarding filibusters — Senate Republicans have other options to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, the ABA Journal reports. One option is the “two-speech rule,” in which senators could only give two speeches in a legislative day, and if the Senate doesn’t adjourn for the night, one “legislative day” could go on for weeks. It would limit each Democrat to two speeches and after they are finished, only a simple majority vote would be needed for confirmation. The second option is a recess appointment, in which the president could put Gorsuch on the bench during a recess, but the appointment would only last until the next session of Congress, which would end in late 2018 or 2019.
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Slatery Adds Support to Gorsuch Nomination

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery added his support to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, Humphrey on the Hill reports. In a letter to the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Tennessee’s two U.S. senators, Slatery wrote, “In short, Judge Gorsuch is a champion of the structural safeguards that protect state sovereignty and individual liberty, a committed textualist and originalist, and a brilliant jurist.”

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SCOTUS Strikes Down Texas Death Penalty Mental Standards

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas state standards used to determine whether someone is mentally fit to receive the death penalty, the ABA Journal Reports. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the 5-3 majority decision, saying that “adjudications of intellectual disability should be informed by the views of medical experts,” while in the case in question, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals relied on seven evidentiary factors that did not cite “any authority, medical or judicial.” 
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Federal Courts Struggle as Vacancies Mount

Federal courts are resorting to creative methods to cope with vacancies on the bench, the Nashville Post reports. With Middle District Chief Federal Judge Kevin Sharp stepping down and Judge Todd Campbell’s retirement late last year, remaining court judges Aleta Trauger and Waverly Crenshaw are seeing their dockets pile up. Judges from Detroit and elsewhere are helping to pick up the slack until two new judges can be appointed in Tennessee by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
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Trump Names Federal Claims Chief Judge

The Trump administration announced the appointment of Susan G. Braden as Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims today. Braden has served on the court since 2003, when she was appointed by President George W. Bush. She has had a long career in intellectual property practice.
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Gorsuch Faces First Day of Confirmation Hearings

Hearings to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began in Washington today, the ABA Journal reports. Up for discussion was Gorsuch’s questioning of Chevron deference, as well as Gorsuch’s views on the separation of powers. Many Democrats applauded Gorsuch’s qualifications, while voicing their discontent of the Senate’s refusal last year to allow Judge Merrick Garland a similar hearing. When Gorsuch himself gave his statement, he noted that he does not believe that judges are merely “politicians in robes.”
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Gorsuch Former Colleagues Unite in Support of Nomination

Dozens of former law clerks of federal appeals judge David Sentelle have written to the Senate calling for quick confirmation of their one-time colleague Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, Roll Call reports. The clerks said they hailed from different points on the political spectrum but all endorsed Gorsuch, who clerked for Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1991 to 1992.

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Second Travel Ban Blocked; Trump Responds with Attack on Judiciary

President Donald Trump criticized the judiciary while on a visit to Nashville yesterday, saying that a federal judge in Hawaii struck down his second travel ban for “political reasons,” the Nashville Post reports. He made comments citing “unprecedented judicial overreach” and said that the Hawaii ruling “makes us look weak.” In addition to the order from Hawaii, a second federal judge in Maryland ruled overnight against a core provision of the ban, the New York Times reports.
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Former State GOP Officials Lobby for Congressional Term Limits

Former Tennessee Republican Party Chairmen Chris Devaney and Bob Davis are lobbying state legislators to advocate for term limits for U.S. Congrees, Knoxnews reports. A resolution currently in the legislature would declare Tennessee’s support for a national constitutional convention to create an amendment to impose term limits. The proposed limits are three two-year terms for U.S. House representatives and two six-year terms for U.S. senators.
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Class Action Litigation Bill Passes Despite ABA Opposition

Despite the American Bar Association’s opposition, the U.S. House yesterday passed the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, the ABA Journal reports. The bill requires federal courts to deny class-action certification unless every one of the proposed class members affirmatively demonstrated they have “suffered the same type and scope of injury” as the named plaintiffs. This morning the House also passed the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017, which amends Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to require judges to sanction attorneys who file lawsuits deemed to have no merit. 
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Former U.S. Attorney Joins Butler Snow

Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee Edward L. Stanton III has joined the Butler Snow Memphis office, the Nashville Post reports. Stanton will practice with the firm’s white collar, compliance and government investigations team and its commercial litigation practice group. Stanton just stepped down from his federal law enforcement position earlier this year. He was nominated by former President Barack Obama to a federal judgeship in 2015, but was not confirmed before President Donald Trump was elected in November.
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SCOTUS: Jury Deliberations Not Guaranteed Secret if Bias Involved

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that courts must make an exception to jury deliberation secrecy if evidence shows that those discussions involved racial bias, the New York Times reports. The case stems from a 2010 sexual assault trial in which a juror reportedly said of the defendant, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican.” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that jury selection and reports from jurors alone are not always effective in determining racial bias. 
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Supreme Court Comes Down Against Race-Based Testimony

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a death-row inmate whose expert witness testified he is more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black, the ABA Journal reports. The inmate had been convicted in Texas in 1995 during a time in which a death sentence couldn’t be imposed unless jurors believed the convicted presented a future danger. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 6-2 majority opinion.
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Accused Knox County Rapist Free on Bond

A man who fled the country after child rape accusations in 1994 is now free on bond, Knoxnews reports. Jahangir John Shafighi, who was accused of raping an 11-year-old girl in 1992 while attending graduate school at the University of Tennessee, was captured last year in Atlanta and nailed with a passport fraud charge, but was released on bond. Knox County Assistant District Attorney Joanie Stewart has fought to keep Shafighi behind bars to guarantee he will show up at trial in the rape case.
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Tennessee Man Found Guilty of Plotting Attack on Muslim Community

Robert Doggart, the Sequatchie County man who was accused of plotting to attack a Muslim community in New York, was found guilty of all charges by Chattanooga’s U.S. District Court today, the Times Free Press reports. The former engineer at the Tennessee Valley Authority faced federal charges including one count of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation, one count to commit arson of a building and two counts of threats in interstate commerce. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 31.
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Right-wing Extremist Will Not Be Labeled ‘Terrorist’

Classifying the crimes of Robert Doggart, the Tennessee man charged with planning to attack a Muslim community in New York, is drawing controversy, the Times Free Press reports. Attorneys representing the Muslim community of Islamberg said that Doggart meets the qualifications of domestic terrorism, but federal prosecutors are using nonterrorism charges because the current statutes are largely aimed at foreign radical groups, and not homegrown extremists like South Carolina church shooter Dylann Roof or Doggart.
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TBA Mashup and Mini Legal Hackathon this Friday

In conjunction with the Law Tech UnConference CLE this Friday, the TBA is also offering a variety of free events and programs for lawyers we’re calling a Mashup. One program will teach you about Legal Hackathons and see one in action. A Legal Hackathon is a collaborative effort of experts in the legal profession collaborating with a computer programmer to find a technology assisted solution to a problem in the legal industry. Join the TBA Special Committee on the Evolving Legal Market for a mini legal hackathon that will demonstrate the power of collaborative minds at work. We will have tasty beverages and snacks to help you get your collaborative juices flowing.  
 
Other programs that will be a part of the Mashup include Pro Bono In Action which will show you various pro bono programs you can participate in to help your fellow Tennesseans and Member Benefit Programs that will provide you information on  Fastcase 7, health insurance options for small firms, ABA retirement funds and professional liability insurance.
 
Please sign up now to let us know you are coming.

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Company Claims No Federal Liability in Bus Crash Lawsuit

Durham School Services, the company contracted to provide busing services to Hamilton County Schools, said it should not be held liable in federal court for its role in the November bus crash that killed five students, the Times Free Press reports. The company responded to a federal class-action lawsuit filed against it in December, saying that the plaintiffs have “a proper and adequate remedy in a state court tort action.”
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Appeals Court Upholds Travel Ban Suspension

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the suspension of President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive order, CNBC reports. A panel of three judges in San Francisco decided the case, brought before the appellate court after U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban. The states of Washington and Minnesota initiated the suit. Read the full opinion here.
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