News

BancorpSouth Fined for ‘Redlining’ in Memphis

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have fined Mississippi-based BancorpSouth $10.6 million for deliberately discriminating against minorities in its lending practices. The action alleges the bank avoided construction of branches in minority neighborhoods in Memphis and charged higher interest rates on loans made to minorities than to non-minorities. The Daily Times has more from the AP.

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Implicit Bias Training Mandated for Federal Law Enforcement

The U.S. Department of Justice will require its prosecutors and all law enforcement agents to receive training designed to prevent implicit bias from affecting their decisions. Implicit bias is defined as “unconscious or subtle associations that individuals make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups.” The decision will impact some 23,000 federal agents (including those from the FBI, DEA and ATF) as well as 5,800 federal prosecutors. The ABA Journal reported the news and noted that the ABA has developed implicit bias training materials for state and local judges, prosecutors and public defenders.

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New UT Diversity Adviser to Work with Lawmakers

The head of the University of Tennessee system has appointed an adviser to focus on increasing diversity across the school’s multiple campuses and serve as a liaison to state lawmakers. Noma Anderson, who most recently was a dean at the school’s health sciences center, says she will represent the school on Capitol Hill “in a more consistent way, not waiting for a general hearing” or a controversy to erupt. This past session, the legislature defunded the UT Diversity Office over its instructions on using gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive language about holiday parties. Nashville Public Radio reports.

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Black Caucus to Hold Criminal Justice Forum

The Tennessee legislature’s Black Caucus will hold a public forum in Memphis on July 10 to discuss criminal justice reform issues. The event will run from 3 to 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church-Broad. According to the Commercial Appeal, the caucus won legislative approval this year for several bills aimed at reforming criminal justice laws, including one making it easier to have a criminal record expunged in cases of mistaken identity and another preventing the state from asking a job applicant about a criminal history early in the interview process. 

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Court Still to Rule on Most Controversial Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued five decisions Monday, including rulings (1) upholding a patent review procedure known as inter partes review, which has been used by Apple and Google to invalidate patents; (2) directing lower courts in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi to re-examine three convictions for evidence of racial prejudice in jury selection; and (3) directing the U.S. Labor Department to do a better job of explaining why it is changing a longstanding policy on whether certain workers deserve overtime pay. With just one week left in the court’s current term, however, the most contentious cases still need to be resolved, including regulation of Texas abortion clinics, the use of race in college admissions, the legality of the president’s immigration executive orders, and the public corruption conviction of Virginia’s former governor. WKRN looks at the remaining cases.

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3 Lawyers Named to Racial Justice Program

Three attorneys from the Legal Aid Society have been selected as fellows in the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s 2016 Racial Justice Training Institute (RJTI). They are Patricia Jones from the Columbia office, Samuel Keen from the Clarksville office and Marla Williams, managing attorney of the Cookeville office. They are the first, and currently only, participants from Tennessee. They will spend the next six months researching disparate expulsions, suspensions and disciplinary actions among students. Read the release from Legal Aid.

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Study: State Judges Don’t Reflect Populations They Serve

A first-of-its-kind study of more than 10,000 current state judges shows that when it comes to race, gender and ethnicity, courts are not representative of the people they serve. Authored by Vanderbilt University law professor Tracey George and University of Toronto law professor Albert H. Yoon, the review finds that more than half of all state trial and appellate judges are white men, a rate almost double their relative number in the U.S. population; fewer than two in ten judges represent a racial or ethnic minority; women are grossly underrepresented; and women of color are the most underrepresented. In state-by-state rankings, Tennessee came in near the bottom, with a ranking of 45 out of 50. Read more or see details for each state.

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Court Rules in Favor of Death-Row Inmate in Racial Bias Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a black death-row inmate's claim of racial bias in jury selection. The 7-1 verdict, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said prosecutors unconstitutionally barred all potential black jurors from the Georgia man’s trial nearly 30 years ago. Defense attorneys later discovered the bias through a series of prosecution notes obtained through an open-records request. USA Today notes that this happened one year after the court’s landmark 1986 ruling in Batson v. Kentucky that declared such actions unconstitutional. 

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School Segregation on the Rise, Report Shows

Poor, black and Hispanic children are becoming increasingly isolated from their white, affluent peers in the nation’s public schools, according to new federal data reported today in the Washington Post. The data, which shows the number of high-poverty schools serving primarily black and brown students more than doubling from 2001 to 2014, was released Tuesday, 62 years since the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

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Lecture Series in African American History at UT Law

The Fleming-Morrow Distinguished Lecture in African American History will begin March 10 at the University of Tennessee College of Law.The inaugural series will feature the life of Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench. Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law and professor of history at Harvard University, will deliver the address from 5:30-7 p.m. in Room 132.

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Judge McMullen to Speak at MTSU Event

Judge Camille R. McMullen of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals will be the featured speaker at Middle Tennessee State University's annual Unity Luncheon on Feb. 18. The event, scheduled from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., is part of the university's observance of Black History Month. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased online before Feb. 11. Read more from the Shelbyville Times-Gazette

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Major Court Decisions Expected in 2016

Abortion, affirmative action and immigration are among major decisions expected from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, according to the Tribune Washington Bureau. “In several cases, conservatives are hoping the high court will shift current law to the right or block President Barack Obama’s policies, while liberals are defending the status quo,” the author writes.

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Court Divided on Affirmative Action in College Admissions

The Supreme Court debated on Wednesday whether race should continue to be a factor in college admissions, NPR reports. The Court remains divided in the case that centers on Abigail Fisher, a white college applicant who claims she was not admitted to the University of Texas because of her race. The Court’s four liberal justices support affirmative action programs, while the four conservative justices say race should not be a factor in admissions. Justice Elena Kagan is recused from the case because she participated in the case when she served as solicitor general in the Obama administration. This is the case’s second trip through the Supreme Court. "We're just arguing the same case. It's as if nothing has happened,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said.

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Deadline Extended to Dec. 18 for DLI Applications

The YLD Diversity Committee has extended the deadline for applying for the 2016 Diversity Leadership Institute (DLI) until Dec. 18 at 5 p.m. Central. The DLI is a six-month program offering opportunities for leadership training, networking and mentoring for 2L and 3L law students. The program will run from January to June 2016. Learn more about the program or download an application from the TBA website. The committee also is seeking attorneys to serve as mentors for the law student class members. Contact Diversity Committee Chair Amber Floyd at 901-537-1054 to volunteer.

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Victim's Family Seeks DOJ Investigation Into Shooting

The family of a man killed this summer by a Memphis police officer is requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the death, the Commercial Appeal reports. A Shelby County grand jury last week decided not to indict the officer on voluntary manslaughter charges, which Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich had recommended. That sparked a protest Tuesday outside the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center that drew about 100 people. Darrius Stewart, 19, was shot and killed by a Memphis police officer during a traffic stop.

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Article Analyzes Lack of Diversity in Tennessee Courts

An article in The Tennessean highlights a lack of diversity in the applicant pool for the vacant Tennessee Supreme Court seat. More than three quarters of Tennessee's appeals court judges are white men. "We live in a culturally and racially diverse country and community and state, and therefore our courts ought to reflect that diversity,” said George Brown, one of only two black judges who have served on the Tennessee Supreme Court.  

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Supreme Court Looks at Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection

The U.S. Supreme Court today looked at racial discrimination in the selection of jurors as multiple prosecutors have filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with Timothy Foster, who was sentenced to death for killing an elderly woman in Georgia. "Numerous studies demonstrate that prosecutors use peremptory strikes to remove black jurors at significantly higher rates than white jurors,” attorneys for Foster said. NPR reports that it is unlikely the court will establish new rules to prevent "systematic discrimination." 

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Panel Discusses the Need for Diversity on the Bench

A panel at the Center for American Progress discussed the group’s new report “More Money, More Problems: Fleeting Victories for Diversity on the Bench" on Monday in Washington, D.C. The report advocates reforms that could help foster diversity on the bench, such as public financing for judicial campaigns. You can listen to the panel discussion online.

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Jury Selection Could be Difficult in Discrimination Case

A Chattanooga lawsuit filed by Erlanger Hospital’s former interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson that includes claims of racial remarks made against Thompson could make upcoming jury selection arduous. The Times Free Press reports that Thompson claimed several high-ranking hospital officials called medicine "a white man's world.” "In this situation, a problem would arise if the defense attorney used peremptory challenges to remove all or most African-Americans as prospective jurors," said Stephen Wasby, an emeritus professor at University at Albany.

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University of Memphis School of Law Receives Diversity Award

The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law was one of five U.S. law schools to receive the 2015 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from “INSIGHT Into Diversity” magazine. “This recognition affirms our commitment to diversity and inclusion and our collaborative effort to achieve excellence amongst our student body and academic environment,” Peter V. Letsou, University of Memphis Law School Dean, said. 

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Minority Law Reception in Knoxville

Knoxville Bar Association (KBA) members along with students from Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law and the University of Tennessee College of Law are invited to KBA’s Minority Law Reception Oct. 1. The event will be held at The Square Room at Café 4, 5:30 – 7 p.m. “Our bar is made better when we foster the professional group of law students of color, and I ask you to join us,” KBA Executive Director Marsha Wilson writes.

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UT Law Will Promote Diversity Through New Position

Katrice W. Jones Morgan was named the University of Tennessee College of Law’s first director of diversity and inclusion. The new position was created as part of Dean Melanie D. Wilson’s initiative to promote diversity at UT Law. Morgan has worked at the College of Law since 2007, previously serving as assistant dean for student affairs before beginning her new role on Aug. 1.

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President Urges Lawmakers to Re-establish Voting Rights Act

President Barack Obama is urging lawmakers to re-establish elements of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, WCYB reports. "Our state leaders and legislatures must make it easier -- not harder -- for more Americans to have their voices heard," Obama wrote in a letter to the New York Times Magazine. Obama's letter comes after the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act last week. 

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EJU Registration Closes Next Wednesday

Registration for the 2015 Equal Justice University (EJU) conference will close next Wednesday. Attendees will hear from national speakers such as Eric Carlson, with Justice in Aging; the National Employment Law Project's Rebecca Dixon; Camille Holmes with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association; and Georgetown University law professor David Super. EJU is hosted by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and co-sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association.

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Young Lawyers Earn 3 National Awards

The TBA Young Lawyers Division (YLD) was honored at the American Bar Association YLD meeting in Chicago this month with three Awards of Achievement. The group took second place in the diversity category for a program it held last March to help diverse law students refine their resumes and prepare for job interviews. It also received the second place award in the “comprehensive” category, which recognizes all projects and activities from the past bar year. Finally, the YLD received a special recognition award for its Access to Justice Week Legal Clinic Initiative – a statewide service project that produced 14 free legal clinics and educational seminars for Tennesseans.

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