News

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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Court Sharply Divided Over Housing Bias Law

The Supreme Court appeared sharply divided today in a debate over a decades-old strategy for fighting discrimination in housing, WRCB reports. Chief Justice John Roberts expressed serious doubts during a one-hour argument that the 1968 Fair Housing Act can be used to ban housing or lending practices without any proof of intent to discriminate. The court's four liberal justices defended the use of so-called "disparate impact" lawsuits that allege even race-neutral policies can have a harmful effect on minority groups. Justice Antonin Scalia, who usually aligns with Roberts and other conservatives, asked tough questions of both sides, making it tough to determine how the court might rule in a case that has steep ideological divisions. 

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Author to Appear on Radio Shows

In his new book, attorney and author Jim Emison writes about the June 20, 1940, Brownsville murder of Elbert Williams, the first NAACP member in the nation known to have been killed because of his civil rights work. Emison will talk about the murder and his upcoming book on Community Feedback WKFX 96 FM on Feb. 1 at 9 a.m. He will also appear on Prime Time Drive, News Talk Radio 101.5 FM on Feb. 3 at 4:30 p.m.

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Tennessee Legislature Mostly White, Christian Males

Tennessee’s General Assembly is predominantly white, Christian males, a new report shows. Nashville Public Radio analyzed lawmakers’ official profiles and campaign websites and found that 83 percent of them are men, 86 percent are white and 96 percent self-identified as Christian. Vanderbilt political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said the lack of female lawmakers was more disparate and surprising since women make up half the state’s population.

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MLK Day Events Begin Friday

A full slate of activities are scheduled across the state for the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day over the next several days. Events begin tomorrow in Nashville and continue through Tuesday with a luncheon at the University of Tennessee College of Law. See a sampling of events here.

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YLD Presents Awards, Hosts Student Leadership Group

The Young Lawyers Division Board met in conjunction with the TBA Leadership Conference this past weekend. In addition to conducting its winter board meeting, the group presented the 2015 CASA Volunteer of the Year Award to Jane Hickman with CASA of Robertson County and recognized several volunteer lawyers for their work. The YLD Diversity Committee also held the opening session for this year’s Diversity Leadership Institute. The class of 18 law students participated in the weekend’s leadership programming and heard from U.S. District Court Judge Pam Reeves on the “10 Commandments of Leadership.” The group will meet again in March and June. See photos from the YLD’s meetings.

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Penningroth to Speak at Vandy Law's MLK Lecture

Vanderbilt University Law School will present its Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture on Jan. 12, noon to 1 p.m., with Northwestern University Department of History Professor Dylan Penningroth speaking on "Faith and Property in African American History." The event is open to the public and lunch will be served. See a list of other Vanderbilt events for its week of MLK commemoration.

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‘Selma’ Screening, Program Set for Saturday

Knoxville area civil rights leaders who were part of the 1960s movement to register black voters across the South will share their experiences Saturday after a special screening of the critically acclaimed new movie “Selma,” Knoxnews reports. The screening – set for 3 p.m. at Regal Cinemas’ Pinnacle Turkey Creek Theater – will kick off a yearlong series of events hosted by the city to mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Obama Cements Judicial Legacy

The U.S. Senate confirmed a total of 132 district and circuit judges after a whirlwind series of late and even midnight sessions, Time reports. That is the most by any Congress in 35 years and helps secure a major part of President Barack Obama’s judicial legacy. The 305 Obama-nominated judges are also the most diverse group ever. “What Obama has done within terms of his judicial legacy is what no other president has ever done before and it’s doubtful that any future president is going to match it,” says Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Obama has diversified the bench in terms of gender, ethnicity, nationality to an extent never, ever, ever done before.”

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New Bill Aims to End Racial Profiling

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and state Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, have created the "Racial Profiling Prevention Act," a proposed state law requiring all law enforcement agencies to adopt a written policy by January 2016 banning racial profiling. The bill defines racial profiling as "the detention, interdiction, or other disparate treatment of an individual solely on the basis of the individual's actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, or national origin." The Tennessean has the story.

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Affirmative Action Could Go Back to Supreme Court

The issue of affirmative action could be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appeals court yesterday refused to reconsider a ruling allowing use of race as a factor in University of Texas undergraduate admissions. Abigail Fisher, who is white, sued in 2008 after she was denied admission. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, but justices told the appeals court to re-examine Fisher's arguments. Fisher's attorneys had asked the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a recent ruling that found barring the university from considering race would mean a less student diversity — in defiance of legal precedent promoting diversity as an important part of education. The Greeneville Sun has the story.

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