News

Court Finds Voter ID Law Has ‘Discriminatory Effect’

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today ruled that Texas’s strict voter-ID law has a discriminatory effect on minority voters, and ordered a lower court to come up with a fix in time for the November elections. The appeals court said that those who possess the necessary ID must show it to vote in November. But it directed a lower court to rectify “the discriminatory effect on those voters who do not have … ID or are unable to reasonably obtain such identification.” The court estimates that some 600,000 people lack the required identification, with African American, Hispanic and poor voters most likely to be affected, the Washington Post reports.

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Justice Birch Building, Statue to be Celebrated Aug. 27

The Nashville Bar Foundation will hold an event Aug. 27 at 5 p.m. to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Justice A. A. Birch Building and dedicate a new 8-foot bronze statue of Birch, who was the first African American to serve as chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Following the ceremony, the foundation will hold an awards dinner inside the Justice A.A. Birch Building. For more information, contact Judge Rachel Bell, 615-862-8341.

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Memphis Police Complaints to be Reviewed

The Memphis Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, which looks at police misconduct cases and makes recommendations to the police director, was revived last year and is now accepting complaints against police for activity from 2011 to 2013. The Associated Press reports that police received 403 complaints from 190 people during that period with only 12 of those complaints acted on. The Mid-South Peace & Justice Center is working to bring as many of these cases as possible to the review board. The Times Free Press has the story.

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Nashville to Hold Public Hearings on Policing, Justice

A week after a series of national shootings involving police exposed deep-seeded racial mistrust around the country, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry announced several public events to hear from area residents on policing, criminal justice and race relations. The forums, to be held in conjunction with Lipscomb University’s Institute of Conflict Management, kick off July 23 at 1 p.m. at Pearl-Cohn High School, the Tennessean reports.

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Studies Yield Different Findings on Police Shootings

A new study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. finds that blacks are not any more likely than whites to be shot at by police, but those findings differ from a Washington Post review that shows blacks are 2.5 times as likely as whites to be shot and killed by police. The Fryer study did find that blacks are more likely to be subjected to rough treatment by police than whites, with blacks 170 percent more likely to be grabbed, 217 percent more likely to be handcuffed, 305 percent more likely to have a gun pointed at them, and 87 percent more likely to be kicked or subjected to a stun gun or pepper spray. The ABA Journal has links to the Fryer and Post studies.

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3 Attorneys Earn Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Award

The National Civil Rights Museum will presents its Freedom Award to five recipients who have worked to improve human rights in the United States and around the world, the Memphis Business Journal reports. Lawyers among the group are Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who takes on high profile cases pro bono; Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and a professor at the New York University School of Law; and Damon Jerome Keith, the longest serving judge on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The awards event, set for Oct. 20, also will feature a tribute to “the Memphis 13” – a group of first graders who desegregated four elementary schools in the city.

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Nashville Lawyers Monitor Vigil, Protests

Nashville lawyers served as monitors for a march held Friday evening that closed Broadway but remained peaceful, the Tennessean reports. About 10 lawyers from private firms as well as the Nashville Public Defender’s Office, donned fluorescent green clothing designating them as a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observers. The group monitored the event to make sure there were no negative interactions with police and people’s rights were not violated.

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Justice Dept. Begins Investigation into Sterling Shooting

The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge, Louisiana., police, reports The New York Times. The incident was captured on video and shared widely on social media, prompting protests over the police killing of an African-American man. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards promised a thorough investigation. “I have very serious concerns,” Edwards said. “The video is disturbing, to say the least.”
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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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