Government Affairs Update

Follow the TBA's efforts to influence federal and state policy as it fulfills one of the core missions of the association – advocacy for the profession and for our system of justice.

Cohen Files Measure to Eliminate Electoral College

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, has filed a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College and provide for direct election of the president and vice president, USA Today reports. “For the second time in recent memory, and for the fifth time in our history, we have a President-elect, who lost the popular vote,” said Cohen, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. “The Electoral College is an antiquated system that was established to prevent citizens from directly electing our nation’s president, yet that notion is antithetical to our understanding of democracy,” he argues. The amendment would need two-thirds approval in both the House and the Senate and would then have to be ratified by 38 of the 50 states.

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AOC Director Speaks to TISL Students

Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Director Deborah Taylor Tate recently joined more than 500 Tennessee college students for the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL) Day on the Hill. The TISL program offers college students the opportunity to learn about state government and the political process, while the Day on the Hill provides an opportunity for students to meet their legislators and learn about current policy issues. Tate recounted the number of state officials who are TISL graduates – including Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Treasurer David Lillard, Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins and Justice Holly Kirby, and eight other current and former judges – to challenge the students to take advantage of the opportunities they are given.

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Legislation Would End All Medical Malpractice Suits

The Georgia-based nonprofit advocacy group Patients for Fair Compensation again this year plans to seek legislation that would ban all malpractice suits in the state, the Nashville Post reports. The group’s proposal will be introduced by Sen. Jack Johnson and Rep. Glen Casada, both Republicans from Franklin. The proposed plan would create a patients’ compensation system funded by annual fees charged to doctors. Instead of filing a lawsuit, an aggrieved patient would apply for compensation to an administrative law judge who would assess the claim. The bill, which surfaced last year for the first time, is opposed by a number of legislators and the Tennessee Medical Association.

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House Votes to Name Nashville Courthouse for Thompson

The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to approve legislation naming Nashville’s new federal building and courthouse the Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse. The bill, introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, passed on a voice vote. Get details on floor consideration of the bill, H.R. 6135.

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Corker, Blackburn Meet with Trump Today

Two Tennessee elected officials were to meet with President-elect Donald Trump today, Knoxnews reports. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn were said to be traveling to Trump Tower for meetings. Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been rumored to be a prospect for secretary of state. But he said earlier this month that he believes someone else is more likely to get the job. Blackburn, a member of the Trump transition team’s Executive Committee, said she was looking forward to discussing “a broad range of policy issues, the transition, and to continue helping him choose the best people for his administration.”

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Tennessee Waltz Defendants Get Rights Restored

Three former elected officials made infamous for their involvement in the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting have had their rights restored, the Tennessean reports. Former state senators John Ford and Roscoe Dixon and former Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr. all served federal prison time, but have received orders from two judges that restored their rights as citizens. Dixon and Hooks participated in a press conference Monday to discuss the challenges of becoming full citizens again and to encourage others to seek restoration of their rights. The men may vote, serve on a jury and obtain professional licenses, but may not hold public office or own a gun. The FBI’s undercover operation “Tennessee Waltz” ensnared 12 legislators, lobbyists and local officials across the state.

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Is Harold Ford Jr. Being Considered for Trump Cabinet?

Former Memphis Congressman Harold Ford Jr. may be under consideration for a post in the Trump administration, according to the website Politico. Transportation secretary has been mentioned though “other Cabinet posts have not been ruled out.” Ford, a Democrat, supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential campaign, but he is friends with some of Donald Trump’s children. Two sources confirmed that preliminary feelers have been put out about potential posts via “emissaries.” Ford represented Tennessee’s Ninth Congressional District from 1997 through 2007. He left that post to run for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost to current Sen. Bob Corker. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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FBI Focuses on Durham’s Campaign Finances

The FBI recently interviewed at least two people about Jeremy Durham's campaign finances, the Tennessean reports. One individual interviewed also said an investigator with the IRS was present during the session. Questions reportedly focused on specific transactions by Durham and his campaign, and whether there was any indication that Durham engaged in money laundering. The interviews come amid ongoing state scrutiny of how the former lawmaker spent his political contributions. State campaign ethics and finance officials have found a $191,000 discrepancy between campaign finance reports and bank accounts. 

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Senate Judiciary to be Led by 2 Non-Lawyers

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will be led by two non-lawyers in the next Congress. Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa -- the committee's first ever non-lawyer chair -- will continue in the position he has held since 2014. This week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, became the ranking member of the committee. She replaces Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who was a practicing attorney before he joined Congress. Responding to concerns that Feinstein is not a lawyer, her former chief counsel said the move “illustrates how legal issues are increasingly seen as societal and political issues” and that having “good, hard-working, smart people running these committees” is more important than whether they have a law degree. Today’s General Counsel has an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal story.

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Trump Picks Alabama Sen. Sessions for AG

Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions has been tapped as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Roll Call reports. Sessions, who sits on the Judiciary, Armed Services, Budget and Environment & Public Works committees, was the first incumbent senator to back Trump. He also has been serving as part of the transition team. Prior to joining Congress in 1996, Sessions was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and a state attorney general. He was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to be a federal district court judge in 1986, but failed to win Judiciary Committee approval. WRCB-TV has more on that issue.

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