News

Cruz Pushes Retention Elections for Supreme Court Justices

Sen. Ted Cruz today told a Senate committee he wants to amend the Constitution to subject Supreme Court justices to periodic, public retention elections. The Presidential hopeful from Texas has been an outspoken opponent of the high court rulings that upheld federal subsidies under Obamacare and legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. Cruz called the hearing of the Judiciary subcommittee he chairs on oversight, agency action, federal rights and federal courts to discuss what options the American people have to “rein in judicial tyranny.” The Hill has more.

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Court Affirms Kidnapping Convictions in Two Cases, Hold Specific Jury Instruction Not Required

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed convictions in two separate cases in which the defendants were charged with the kidnapping and robbery of different victims. In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals, holding that a State v. White jury instruction is not required when a defendant is charged with the offenses of kidnapping and robbery of different victims. Justice Gary R. Wade filed dissenting opinions in both cases, maintaining that the White jury instruction was required by long-standing principles of due process. The AOC has more.

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Order Blocks Executioner's Testimony

Tennessee's executioner will not testify in a trial challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection, at least for the time being, the New York Times reports. The state Court of Appeals issued the order Wednesday afternoon in response to an emergency request filed earlier in the day by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery. In his motion, Slatery echoed an earlier ruling by the state's Supreme Court that the executioner's testimony is irrelevant because the case challenges the written lethal injection protocols, not how they are carried out by a specific person.

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Court Determines Assignment of Insurance Proceeds Wasn’t Effective

The Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that a Nashville chiropractic clinic’s patient did not effectively assign his rights to insurance proceeds received from a third party’s insurance company. In an opinion written by Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, the Court pointed out that the agreement’s language implies that the patient intended to assign proceeds from his own insurance policies, not proceeds from another person’s insurance. The AOC has the full opinion.

New Study Finds Court Leaning Left

The U.S. Supreme Court may finish this term with a greater percentage of liberal decisions than any since 1969, according to an article in The New York Times. Using data from The Supreme Court Database, which codes decisions on “widely-accepted” standards, the authors found that the court issued liberal decisions in 56 percent of the cases this term. “If that trend holds, the final percentage could rival the highest since the era of the notably liberal court of the 1950s and 1960s led by Chief Justice Earl Warren,” the authors write.

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Court Affirms Dual Convictions

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed multiple convictions stemming from a domestic incident in which Terrence Feaster inflicted serious injuries upon his then-girlfriend, Molly Kate McWhirter, at her Knox County residence. On appeal, Feaster argued that his dual convictions for attempted voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault arising out of the same incident constituted double jeopardy, or being sentenced twice for substantially the same offense. The Supreme Court rejected Feaster’s claim, concluding that the dual convictions could stand because the offenses are composed of different elements. The AOC has more.

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Vanderbilt to Host Twitter Q&A on Gay Marriage Case

Vanderbilt law professor Brian Fitzpatrik will host a live Twitter question-and-answer session Tuesday at 2 p.m. about the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on same-sex marriage. Questions can be tweeted in advance or during the event by using the hash tag #AskVU. Fitzpatrick is an expert on constitutional law, judicial politics and federal courts. He was in the courtroom April 28 when the court heard arguments on several same-sex marriage cases.

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State Agency Withdraws from Execution Lawsuit

Facing objections from legislators and a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing set for August, the Office of Post-Conviction Defender has decided to abandon its role in a lawsuit seeking information about executions, Knoxnews reports. The office, which is tasked with representing death row inmates in appeals, was representing a group of inmates suing the state for information about the people and drugs involved in executions. Nashville attorney Kathleen G. Morris now will provide pro bono representation to the death row inmates.

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Court Upholds Arbitration Deal with Foreclosure Exception

The Tennessee Supreme Court has reversed trial and appellate court findings that an arbitration agreement between a purchaser and homebuilder was unfair and unenforceable. The purchaser had argued that the agreement was unfairly one-sided in favor of the homebuilder because it required both parties to arbitrate disputes but allowed the homebuilder to file foreclosure proceedings in court. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the agreement applied equally to both parties and the exception for foreclosures was a narrow and reasonable one. The court also found there was a reasonable business justification for the exception, and the circumstances surrounding the contract were not overly one-sided or unfair. Read the full opinion on the AOC website.

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Supreme Court Denies New Trial After Witness’ Memory Loss During Testimony

The Tennessee Supreme Court rejected a Memphis defendant’s argument that he was entitled to a new trial because a witness on the stand said he was unable to recall his earlier statements about the murder. Marlo Davis was convicted of second degree murder and reckless homicide in the 2006 death of a man working on a rental property. During the investigation, one witness gave a sworn statement to police and then later testified at a preliminary hearing that he saw Davis shoot the victim. At trial, that same witness said he could not recall what happened that day and did not recall what he had said to police or at the hearing. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the court rejected the argument regarding feigned memory loss, saying that the trial court had no way of definitively determining if a witness was being truthful about their lack of memory. The AOC has more.

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Initiative Asks Justices to Adopt Voluntary Term Limits

A new effort to limit the tenure of future U.S. Supreme Court justices launched Wednesday, with the aim of urging any would-be nominee to pledge to serve a single 18-year term. The initiative, called Come to Terms, asserts that term limits are needed to increase accountability and reduce the politicization of the court. It is being pushed by Fix the Court, a group formed last year to “promote transparency and accountability on the high court.” The Blog of Legal Times has more on the effort.

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Court to Review New Civil, Criminal Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted review to several new cases. Civil issues to be decided include corporate shareholder standing and challenges to charges by utilities. Criminal issue include traffic stop suppression, expired sentences, defective indictments and lesser-included offenses. The Raybin-Perky Hotlist reviews each and offers a prediction on how the cases may be decided.

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Batey Seeks Mistrial in Vanderbilt Rape Conviction

Cory Batey is asking for a mistrial as well as a new one in the Vanderbilt University rape case almost a week after his former co-defendant Brandon Vandenburg’s attorneys motioned for the same thing. With less than a month before his sentencing, Batey’s lawyer said the Jan. 27 guilty verdict should be set aside due to questions on whether the jury foreman misrepresented himself by not disclosing that he was a victim of sexual abuse. News 2 has more.

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Defense Seeks Mistrial in Vanderbilt Rape Case

Attorneys for a former football player convicted of raping an unconscious Vanderbilt University student in 2013 have asked the judge to declare a mistrial, the Tennessean reports. The motion claims that a juror who heard Brandon Vandenburg's trial in January had intentionally withheld information during the jury selection process. The attorneys say the juror is a victim of statutory rape and could not have been an unbiased juror.

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6th Circuit Clears Oak Ridge Protestors of Sabotage

An 85-year-old nun and two Army veterans sent to prison after breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge did not commit sabotage and should be re-sentenced, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The decision overturns the sabotage convictions but upholds convictions for damaging government property. The appeals court directed the trial court to re-sentence the three in light of the reduced charges and the time they have already served. All three have been jailed since May 2013, Reuters reports.

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Lawyers Urge Court to Consider Electric Chair Claim

Lawyers at some of the state's most prominent law firms are urging the state Supreme Court to allow inmates to move forward with a claim the electric chair is an unconstitutional method of execution, the Tennessean reports. Twenty-two attorneys filed a brief with the Tennessee Supreme Court last week citing "a common calling to promote justice and public good." The court heard oral arguments in the case Wednesday in Knoxville.

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6th Circuit OKs Sanctions for Frivolous Suit

The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld sanctions imposed by a trial court on a plaintiff and his lawyer for filing a frivolous False Claims Act lawsuit, the Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog reports. But the court went even further and took aim at the appellate lawyer, giving him 14 days to show why he should not be sanctioned. “The Sixth Circuit in recent years has not hesitated to sanction attorneys for frivolous and unwarranted appeals,” the blog notes.

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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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High Court Hears Electric Chair Challenge in Knoxville

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard a challenge to a new state law resurrecting electrocution in capital murder cases when it convened today in Knoxville. It was not considering whether the 2014 law passes constitutional muster. Instead, the panel was to hear arguments on whether it is too soon for the 34 death row inmates suing the state over all manner of death penalty protocols to mount a challenge at all. Knoxnews.com has the story. The Associated Press issued this guide to the state's lethal injections protocols.

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Court to Hear Challenge to Electrocution

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week regarding whether a death row inmate can properly challenge the constitutionality of electrocution as a possible method of execution. The  issue is part of a broader suit being brought by 34 death row inmates challenging Tennessee’s death penalty protocol. That case is continuing in a lower court while this interlocutory appeal is being heard. The court will also hear six other cases when it convenes in Knoxville. Read more about them from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

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Much Interest Generated from Same-Sex Marriage Case

The U.S. Supreme Court offered tickets for three-minute views of the arguments in yesterday's Obergefell v. Hodges for those who did not get seats for the historic case about whether states must allow same-sex couples to marry and whether states must recognize gay marriages performed in other states. The ABAJournal reports the court also released audio for the day's events. Couples from Memphis and Knoxville, who were among the plaintiffs, reacted to the historic day in these Memphis Flyer and News Sentinel articles. WCYB looks at the different stands of two attorneys general: Virginia's attorney general is for it while Tennessee's is against it. Read excerpts from all the arguments.

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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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Historic Oral Arguments on Same-Sex Marriage Begin Tuesday

When the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could decide whether gay and lesbian couples nationwide have the constitutional right to marry, Tennessee will be a big part of it. Legal analysts say the case could do for gay couples what Brown v. Board of Education did for black Americans and what Roe v. Wade did for women's rights concerning abortions. "This will be the case everyone refers to 50 years from now as the gay rights case," Vanderbilt University Law School Professor Brian Fitzpatrick told The Tennessean. Both sides see the case as a legacy-making moment for Chief Justice John Roberts, CNN reports, upset nearly three years ago upset conservatives with a pivotal vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act. The ABA Journal takes a look at recent cases involving the rights of same-sex couples.

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Court Grants Review on Lesser-Included Offenses Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review in a case on the issue of lesser-included offenses. The Raybin-Perky Hotlist reviews it and makes a prediction as to how it may be decided.

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Gay Marriage Case Marks Tennessee Lawyer’s Debut before Supreme Court

When Tennessee associate solicitor general Joseph F. Whalen stands before the U.S. Supreme Court next week, the case he will argue will long be remembered as one of the defining events in the battle over same-sex marriage. It will also be the first time in his three-decade career that he has argued before the nation’s high court. According to court briefs, he will contend there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage and that states with bans are not bound by the U.S. Constitution to recognize same-sex unions performed in states where they are legal. Knoxnews has more.

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