News

Supreme Court Backs Fair Housing Case

The Supreme Court today ruled that claims of racial discrimination in housing cases shouldn't be limited by questions of intent, National Public Radio reports. The court affirmed a Court of Appeals decision in a case in which a nonprofit group, the Inclusive Communities Project, said that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs had contributed to "segregated housing patterns by allocating too many tax credits to housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods." The 5-4 ruling endorses the notion of citing disparate impact in housing cases, meaning that statistics and other evidence can be used to show decisions and practices have discriminatory effects — without proving that they're the result of discriminatory intentions.

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Nashville Library Hosts 1964 'Freedom Summer' Video and Discussion

The public is invited to attend a screening of selected excerpts from the award winning film “Freedom Summer” by Stanley Nelson and a conversation with Dr. Bernard Lafayette and Dr. C.T. Vivian on how the ideas and practices from the summer of 1964 still echo today. The free event will be July 11 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Nashville Main Library, 615 Church St. For more information, contact Andrea Blackman

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Alabama Civil Rights Lawyer to Speak in Chattanooga

The Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga will hold it eighth annual First Amendment Dinner July 14 at 6 p.m. at the Jewish Cultural Center, 5461 N. Terrace Rd., the Chattanoogan reports. The keynote speaker will be Morris Dees, Alabama attorney and founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The cost is $12 before July 9. RSVP to (423) 493-0270 ext. 10 or by email

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Fred Gray to Speak Thursday in Nashville

Veteran civil rights attorney Fred D. Gray will speak this Thursday at Lipscomb University as part of the 2015 Law Camp. The camp, which is sponsored by the TBA and the university’s Institute for Law, Justice & Society, brings high school students from across the country to Nashville for a week of programs on historical and currently relevant legal issues. This year’s camp is focused on the development of key freedoms and the concept of equality under the law, with a special focus on the Civil Rights Movement. Gray, who represented Rosa Parks in her fight for equality in Montgomery, Alabama, and was Dr. Martin Luther King’s first lawyer, will speak at 6 p.m. in Swang Chapel of the Ezell Center. The event is open to the public.

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Firm Recognized for Work in Building Diversity in Profession

Law is the least diverse profession in the nation, author and law professor Debrorah Rhode writes in the Washington Post. She cites U.S Bureau of Labor statistics showing 88 percent of lawyers are white, opposed to 81 percent of architects and engineers, 78 percent of accountants and 72 percent of physicians and surgeons. Some firms are working to change that. In Nashville, Dickinson Wright PLLC was recently honored for its commitment to improving diversity within the profession, particularly in its summer/associate hiring. The Nashville Bar Association recognized the firm with its Diversity Committee 2015 Sponsorship Award at the NBA’s Annual Law Day Luncheon.

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Coach Resigns Following Complaints of Racial Taunting

Springfield’s High School baseball coach has resigned amid a state investigation into claims of racial taunting between players on his team. The Tennessee Office of Civil Rights is investigating a complaint made by a player’s parent that came to light during a public hearing in February. That event was part of an ongoing discussion of segregation in Robertson County schools, the Tennessean reports.

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Public Defender, Mother, Talks About Racism

Ainka Jackson, an assistant public defender in Nashville, spoke last week during a mayoral candidate forum focused on criminal justice policies that have led to mass incarceration, which is disproportionately destructive to minority communities. Jackson, who is black and also a mother, a wife and a sister, spoke just after the riots in Baltimore about what it means to be a black woman, in all those roles, in today's America. Read her speech in the Nashville Scene.

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NCBP Offers Scholarships to Boost Diversity

The National Conference of Bar Presidents (NCBP) is offering scholarship to encourage leaders from traditionally underrepresented bars to attend its annual meeting July 30 – Aug. 1 in Chicago. The scholarship will cover registration costs as well as up to $500 in travel expenses.

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Attorney Fights to Honor Forgotten Civil Rights Martyr

Retired Alamo attorney Jim Emison hopes to elevate the little-known story of Elbert Williams, a charter member of the NAACP and voting rights advocate in Haywood County, who was found dead in 1940. After a visit from police, Williams disappeared. Three days later, he was found in the Hatchie River. Emison, who is writing a book about Williams, says all signs point to murder at the hands of local law enforcement. Emison is planning a memorial service for Williams on June 20, the anniversary of his death, and hopes to put a tombstone on his now-unmarked grave, Nashville Public Radio reports.

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Emory Law To Establish John Lewis Chair

Emory University School of Law has received a $1.5 million donation to help establish a John Lewis Chair in Civil Rights and Social Justice. The gift, given anonymously, funds a professorship that will enable Emory Law to conduct a national search for a scholar with an established academic profile of distinction and a demonstrated desire to promote the rule of law through the study of civil rights. In 1963, at the age of 23, Lewis was a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington. He has served in Congress as representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District since 1987.

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Criminal Justice Expert Speaks on Racism

Georgetown law professor Paul Butler spoke on “Criminal Justice After Ferguson,” Monday at the University of Tennessee, the student newspaper The Daily Beacon reports. Valorie Vojdik, the director of the clinical programs and professor in the College of Law, said inviting Butler to campus was a decision made following the events that unfolded this year in Ferguson, New York City and South Carolina, which she said have “rocked” the criminal justice system.

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Court Rejects Alabama Redistricting Plan

A deeply divided Supreme Court today rejected a Republican redistricting plan in Alabama that packed black voters into urban districts to dilute their impact elsewhere, the Leaf Chronicle reports. The majority opinion drew an angry, 13-page dissent from Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the court's only black justice.

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Firm Marks Black History Month with Film, Book Event

Baker Donelson will host a movie screening and book signing at its Nashville office this Thursday in conjunction with the Nashville Public Television and Black History Month. At 5:30 p.m., the firm will show American Denial – the story of researcher and Nobel Laureate Gunnar Myrdal. Following the screening, Baker Donelson senior counsel Chervis Isom will discuss his autobiography, The Newspaper Boy, which tells the story of a teenager’s journey to racial tolerance in 1950s and 1960s Birmingham. RSVP by March 18.

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TBA Committee Seeks Diversity Survey Participants

In an effort to enhance racial diversity within Tennessee's legal profession and to make the profession and the justice system more reflective of the state's diversity, the TBA’s Committee on Racial & Ethnic Diversity is conducting a Survey of Diversity Practices. To participate in the study, contact Sections and Committees Coordinator Jenny Jones, (615) 383-7421 by Friday.

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NAACP Embarks on 'Journey for Justice'

The Tennessee NAACP State Conference will hold its 15th Annual Legislative Day on the Hill in Nashville next Tuesday. The group hopes to engage state lawmakers on issues such as Medicaid expansion, increasing the minimum wage, expanding voting rights and ensuring that Tennessee enacts a new ban on racial profiling. The event is part of a month-long campaign by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP called “Journey for Justice.” The Chattanoogan has more.

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Report Finds Racial Bias in Ferguson Police, Court

Federal officials will not bring civil rights charges against former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson but will release a scathing report tomorrow documenting patterns of racial bias in the Ferguson police department, jail and court, the Washington Post reports. The investigation – launched after Wilson shot and killed an unarmed 18-year old African American – found that police officers disproportionately used excessive force against blacks and too often charged them with petty offenses. The investigation also revealed racial bias among court and jail employees. The U.S. Justice Department is negotiating a settlement with the police department to change its practices, though some are calling for a more radical response.

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Napier-Looby Presents Fellows, Awards

The Napier-Looby Bar Foundation celebrated its 11th Annual Barristers’ Banquet and Awards Program in Nashville last night. Foundation President William Stover presented Judge Allegra Walker and Nashville lawyer Luther Wright the Justice A. A. Birch Outstanding Service Award. Newly elected Judge Kelvin Jones received the J.C. Napier Trailblazer Award and Susan Short Jones was the recipient of the Z. Alexander Looby Lifetime Achievement Award. New Fellows introduced at the event included General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell, Charles Bone, Gordon Bonnyman, Dewey Branstetter, Ed Kindall and George Thompson III. The Foundation funds scholarships for promising students at several Tennessee law schools. To learn more  visit the NLB Foundation website.

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Attorneys Recall Role of Law in 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike

A memorandum of understanding almost settled the 1968 sanitation workers strike before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, recalled David Caywood during a recent forum. Caywood, who had drafted a proposed settlement of the strike as an attorney at Burch, Porter and Johnson, joined attorney Charles Carpenter, Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey and former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton to talk about the law, attorneys and the effect of both on Memphis in the 1960s during  “Voices of Civil Rights,” a panel discussion presented last week by the University of Memphis Black Law Students Association. Memphis Daily News has more.

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Memphis Law Pre-Law Day Rescheduled

The University of Memphis School of Law’s Diversity & Pre-Law Day has been rescheduled for March 6. It was to have taken place last Friday, but was postponed due inclement weather. The annual event is a preparation and preview day for prospective law students. This year’s guest speaker is ABA President-elect Paulette Brown. Register online or contact Brigitte Boyd for more information.

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Napier Looby Foundation to Hold Annual Banquet

The Napier-Looby Bar Foundation’s 11th Annual Barristers’ Banquet will take place Feb. 26 at Nashville’s Music City Center. The banquet will begin at 6 p.m. with a cocktail reception, followed by a dinner and awards program. This year’s honorees include Judge Kelvin Jones, Susan Short Jones, Judge Allegra Walker and Luther Wright Jr. The Barristers’ Banquet is the group’s annual fundraising event, with revenue supporting its scholarship program and other charitable activities. Contact Andrea Perry, (615) 238-6303, with any questions.

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Adolpho Birch: Pioneer Chief Justice

In honor of Black History Month, the Tennessean remembers Adolpho A. Birch Jr., the first black chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Birch graduated from Howard University and came to Nashville to teach medical law at Meharry Medical College. He also taught at Fisk University and what is now Tennessee State University. He was appointed assistant district attorney for Davidson County in 1966 and named a General Sessions court judge in 1969, becoming the first black Tennessean to serve in a countywide office. He also became the first person to serve at every judicial level in Tennessee. Upon Birch’s retirement in 2006, Davidson County dedicated its new criminal court building, the Justice A.A. Birch building, in his honor.

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Report: Law School Diversity Only Improves at Lowest Ranked Schools

The percentage of African-American and Hispanic students enrolled in law school increased between 2010 and 2013, but those gains came almost exclusively at less prestigious law schools with lower admission standards, according to new research. Aaron Taylor, an assistant professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law, found that law schools at the bottom of the prestige ladder have relied disproportionately on African-American and Hispanic students to fill their classes. In contrast, elite law schools with higher median LSAT scores actually saw a proportional decrease in African-American and Hispanic students between 2010 and 2013, The National Law Journalreports.

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Equal Justice Initiative Releases Report on Racial Terror

A report released yesterday by the Equal Justice Initiative has found 3,959 people were victims of "racial terror lynchings" in the South between 1877-1950. The report focused on the 12 most-active "lynching states" in America: Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Of the 12 states studied, Tennessee is eighth on the list in terms of total victims. Not only were racial terror lynching totals found to be higher than previously thought, many victims were murdered without being accused of any crime, Fox 17 reports.

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'Discovering the Law' Gives Students a Taste of UT Law

High school juniors and seniors are invited to explore the benefits of a legal education at “Discovering the Law,” an event sponsored by the University of Tennessee College of Law on Feb. 20. Directed by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the DisoverLaw.org campaign is designed to “encourage racially and ethnically diverse students to discover career opportunities in law and choose a path in undergraduate school to help them succeed.” To register, contact the UT Law admissions office, (865) 974-4131, by Feb. 18.

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Memphis Mayor to Keynote UT Law’s Blackshear Gala

City of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton will deliver the keynote address at the 15th Annual Julian Blackshear Jr. Scholarship Gala, which recognizes and celebrates students and alumni who have positively impacted the University of Tennessee College of Law through their commitment to diversity. Presented in partnership with the Black Law Students Association, the gala will begin with a reception at 6 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Holiday Inn World’s Fair Park, 525 Henley St., Knoxville 37902. Dinner and a formal program will follow at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50; $25 for current students. All proceeds go to the school’s Blackshear Scholarship. RSVP by Feb. 16 to Rynn Dupes, (865) 974-6691.

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