News

Black Farmers Association Calls on Trump to Accept Ruling in USDA Suit

The Memphis-based Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association called on President Donald Trump to accept a court ruling that could lead to payouts over $1 billion to growers who were denied assistance based on race, The Commercial Appeal reports. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., last week issued an order denying a USDA ruling that would have thrown out the claims of 15,000 black farmers. The case was originally brought by Earnest Lee Boyland, a farmer from Mason, Tennessee.
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Alexander, Corker, Haslam Favor Moving Forrest Bust from Capitol

U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker both support moving a bust of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Tennessee Capitol and relocating it to a museum, Humphrey on the Hill reports. In a statement, Gov. Bill Haslam concurred, saying he strongly encouraged the Capitol Commission and Historical Commission to act. “My position on this issue has not changed — I do not believe Nathan Bedford Forrest should be one of the individuals we honor at the Capitol,” he said, the Times Free Press reports. Tennessee’s gubernatorial candidates are split, however, with only the two Democratic candidates supporting the statue’s removal.
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Memphis to Sue State to Remove Confederate Statues

The city of Memphis is prepared to sue the state of Tennessee to remove confederate statues from city owned land, Fox 13 reports. “There is no place in the city of Memphis for signs or symbols of hatred, bigotry or racism,” said City Council Chairman Berlin Boyd. The city must get approval from the Tennessee Historical Commission before a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest can be removed. That issue is currently being taken up in court, but a second statue of Jefferson Davis has not yet been addressed. City Attorney Bruce McMullen said the city will add him to the list of statues they want down on an amended waiver adding if that is denied, “We are prepared to go all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court on this issue.”
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Law Firm Mourns Loss of Legal Assistant Killed in White Supremacist Attack

The Miller Law Group in Charlottesville, Virginia, described legal assistant Heather Heyer as “empathetic,” “conscientious” and with a good sense of humor, memorializing her just days after she was killed in a white supremacist attack. Law.com reports that Heyer, who was killed when a man drove his car into a group of people who were protesting a white nationalist rally, had worked at the firm for five years. “I’m going to miss her,” said firm attorney Larry Miller. “It’s a small firm. It’s like family.”
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ABA President Condemns Charlottesville Violence

American Bar Association President Linda Klein responded yesterday to weekend violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one protester and two officers dead. “The ABA knows the principles that govern our country – respect for the rule of law, tolerance for the beliefs and freedoms of others, and a deep dedication to uphold the Constitution – are strong and will prevail over the forces of hate and racism," she said.
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City Boosts Grants to Strike-era Sanitation Workers

The Memphis City Council voted Tuesday to increase the honorary grants going to city workers who participated in the 1968 sanitation strike, the Commercial Appeal reports. The 10 retirees and four active employees will get $70,000 grants, with all taxes paid by the city. Earlier the council had passed Mayor Jim Strickland's proposal to give the strikers all-taxes-paid $50,000 grants.

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City Pledges $900k to Living Memphis Sanitation Strikers

In honor of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the city of Memphis will give $50,000 to each of the 14 living sanitation workers who staged strikes over working conditions in the 1960’s, The Commercial Appeal reports. "It's a major step toward the financial security they deserve," said Mayor Jim Strickland of the proposal. The city will cover the cost of the tax-free grants with money from its reserves. 
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Website Shows America's Brutal Lynching History

Two years ago, a groundbreaking study on lynching documented the brutal mob violence that forced many African Americans to flee the south. With help from Google, now the Equal Justice Initiative that published the study has transformed Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror into an interactive digital platform that combines historical data and personal stories so people can explore one of the darkest passages in the nation's history. Knoxnews.com has the USAToday story.

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Big Law Sees Small Gains in Diversity, but None for African-Americans

Large law firms saw a small increase in diversity last year, but the gains did not extend to African-American lawyers, the ABA Journal reports. Minorities now make up 15.6 percent of the lawyers at the nation’s top 250 firms, up from 15 percent last year, and the percentage of minority partners increased 0.4 percentage points, to 8.6 percent. The percentage of African-Americans, however, did not change from the previous year. According to the American Lawyers's  diversity scorecard, Asian-American and Hispanic lawyers did expericnce gains in both number of lawyers and partners.  
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Attorney-Author Seeks Info on Early African-American Lawyers

Nashville attorney Lewis Laska is collecting information for a book he is writing about African-American lawyers in Tennessee (1868-1968). He seeks information regarding experiences, anecdotes, documents, cases and memoirs regarding black lawyers during this era. Although he has already identified 206 names, he does not want to leave anyone or anything out and therefore requests any other available information. Contact him at P. O. Box 252, Madison, TN 37116, (615) 491-2928 or at llaska@verdictslaska.com.

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ABA Launches Diverse Speakers Directory

The American Bar Association is looking for attorneys from underrepresented groups to join the new Diverse Speakers Directory, a initiative designed to give opportunities to speakers from diverse backgrounds and also help CLE planners connect with those individuals. ABA and non-ABA members are invited to sign up for the directory, which would be used by more than 3,500 ABA entities looking for speakers for their events or experts in a subject matter. 
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Crockett County to Remember Man Lynched by Mob in 1929

The Crockett County NAACP and the Equal Justice Initiative are sponsoring a ceremony to remember Joe Boxley, a man lynched by a mob in 1929. The ceremony will feature a dedication of soil from the site where he was killed for permanent display in the Equal Justice Initiative museum. Speakers will include District Attorney Garry A. Brown, Tennessee History for Kids Founder Bill Carey, a Boxley family member and a representative of the Equal Justice Initiative.The dedication will be in the Crockett County Courthouse in Alamo at 10 a.m. on June 10.

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House Members Spar After Accidentally Honoring Klan Leader

Tennessee House members sparred yesterday after they unwittingly voted in favor of a resolution honoring the achievements of Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Tennessean reports. Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyra), apologized to members of the black caucus after sponsoring the resolution to honor Shane Kastler, the author of a book about Forrest. “I passed this not trying to hurt anybody's feelings,” Sparks said. Rep. Johnny Shaw (D-Bolivar) said he thought Sparks “pulled a fast one,” adding that he would take his vote back if he could.
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Many Pledge to 'Stand Against Racism' at YWCA Event

Several hundred people gathered in Nashville's Public Square Park today for the YWCA's annual Stand Against Racism event. The programming was led by Mayor Megan Barry and featured several lawyers and others speaking on the theme "Women of Color Leading Change." Among the speakers were Ana Escobar, with the Davidson County District Attorney General's Office; civil rights attorney Abby Rubenfeld; and Sharon Roberson, president and CEO of YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee. Melody Fowler-Green, with the Metro Human Relations Commission, and Beverly Watts, who serves on the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commisson, led the crowd in committing to the pledge. See photos from the event.

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Federal Judge Strikes Down Voter ID Law

A federal judge ruled today that a voter ID law passed in Texas in 2011 was enacted with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, the New York Times reports. The judge had previously made a similar ruling, but the state of Texas appealed her decision and a federal appellate court instructed her to review the issue again.
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Learn the Neuroscience of Decision-Making at the TBA Convention

At the TBA Convention in Kingsport, a special joint Bench/Bar CLE will examine the role neuroscience plays in our decision-making skills and judgment. The session will include exercises, tools and specific strategies for increasing impartiality and integrity in decision-making. The course will identify ways to increase fairness guided by science. The convention will be June 14-17 at the MeadowView Marriott Resort.
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Former Nashville Employee Claims Firing Violated Civil Rights

A former Metro Nashville worker filed suit against the city in federal court today, claiming her civil rights were violated in her firing, the Tennessean reports. Danyelle Bennett is seeking $2 million in damages over her termination, which she said was tied to a November Facebook post in which she posted a graphic in support of President Donald Trump’s victory. In comments about the post, Bennett’s response to one statement included the use of a racial expletive.
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DOJ Changes Course in Voting Rights Case

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday dropped a claim that a strict voter ID law in Texas was enacted with discriminatory intent, according to the ABA Journal. Opponents had argued the restrictions on which IDs were acceptable were intended to benefit Republicans and white voters who tend to support them.The Justice Department said it was dropping the claim to allow time for Texas lawmakers to consider a bill that would allow more types of IDs. A lawyer representing one of the plaintiffs in the case, Danielle Lang, said that the dropped claim "is a complete 180-degree turn."

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Memphis BLSA Raises $100K for Scholarships at Banquet

The Benjamin L. Hooks Chapter of the Black Law Students Association hosted an awards banquet last night that raised more than $100,000 for scholarships. Billed as the Inaugural Unity in Diversity Banquet, the event was established to create more opportunities for diverse students to pursue a legal education.
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Napier-Looby Bar Foundation Hosts Awards Banquet

The Napier-Looby Bar Foundation’s 13th Annual Barrister’s Banquet and Awards Program will be held Thursday evening. This year’s program will honor Richard Manson with the Z. Alexander Looby Lifetime Achievement Award, Mercedes Mynor-Faulcon with the Justice A. A. Birch Outstanding Service Award and Charles K. Grant and Joycelyn Stevenson with the J. C. Napier Trailblazer Award. The night’s events will be held at the Music City Center in Nashville, and begin with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m.
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Memphis City Hall ‘Blacklist’ Could Violate Federal Decree

The city of Memphis made public Friday a list of people requiring police escorts when they are in City Hall, an act that may have violated a 1978 federal consent decree banning political surveillance, the Commercial Appeal reports. The list is comprised mostly of prominent political activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. The American Civil Liberties Union is currently looking into the case.
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Vanderbilt Basketball to Honor Civil Rights Leaders

In honor of Black History Month, the Vanderbilt University basketball team will suit up in special uniforms and recognize 21 local civil rights leaders at a game on Saturday, the Tennessean reports. Several legal luminaries are among the honorees, including Adolpho Birch Jr., George Barrett, Coyness Ennix and Sen. Thelma Harper.
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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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Memphis Judge Moderates ABA Panel on Batson Decision

Judge Bernice Donald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit moderated a panel reviewing the 30 years of the Batson v. Kentucky decision of 1986. It ruled that a prosecutor’s exercise of race-based peremptory challenges to jurors violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The panelists at the ABA Midyear Meeting event called the ruling a “tremendous failure,” and said that lawyers need to be trained on how to choose a jury without excluding due to race. Read more at the ABA website.
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SCOTUS Will Not Hear Texas Voter ID Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from Texas that seeks to revive the strict voter ID requirements a lower court found had a discriminatory effect on minorities, reports Reuters. A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision found that the 2011 Texas law violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act, and the appeals court directed a federal district court to examine claims by the plaintiffs that the law was actually intended to be discriminatory, rather than merely having a discriminatory effect. A hearing on that case was scheduled for today but has been delayed following a request from President Trump’s administration. 
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