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VOL. 133 | NO. 13 | Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Norris Acknowledges Stall in Federal Judicial Nomination

By Bill Dries

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State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville says he will continue with his legislative duties unless or until the U.S. Senate confirms his appointment to the federal judiciary.


Norris told the Senate Republican caucus last week that he doesn’t “trust the United States Senate to follow through on this.”

“I’m not going to resign the seat which my constituents have elected me or this leadership for which you elected me.” Norris said, according to The Tennessean. “It’s very constructive to be crucified for the sins of others, to see what other people who demonize us say about us and how they see us.”

The Jan. 10 caucus session in Nashville is the first public comment Norris has made on his nomination by President Donald Trump last year to the Memphis Federal Court bench and his recommendation by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

The committee vote was a party line vote of 11-9 indicating a vote by the full U.S. Senate would likely hew closely to party lines as well. A U.S. Senate majority of 51 is every Republican in the chamber to 49 Democrats.

Norris is drawing opposition for the Tennessee Legislature’s passage of state laws requiring voter IDs, a failed attempt to require proof of citizenship to vote and his push for more state control of refugees allowed within the state.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. came out against Norris’ nomination late last year terming his record “appalling” and “one that stands out even among President Trump’s long line of anti-civil rights nominees.”

The group said in November that Norris “demonstrated a laser-focused determination to destroy civil rights protections and laws.”

“No litigant who brought a civil rights claim before Norris would believe that he could provide an impartial hearing and fairly adjudicate claims involving the nation’s civil rights laws,” the LDF letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee read. “Confirming Norris would thus undermine the rule of law and erode the very legitimacy of the judiciary.”

The opposition includes Norris’ leading role in sponsoring several versions of state laws that ultimately permitted the demerger of public education in Shelby County into a set of six suburban school systems one year after the county’s two public school systems merged.

“Norris responded to the planned merger with a bill that allowed six wealthy suburban schools to secede from the county school district, leaving Memphis behind,” the letter reads. “Norris’ bill has had a devastating financial impact on the mostly students of color in Memphis.”

And the LDF letter quotes Democratic critics in the House at that time, including former state House speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who said the demerger bill amounted to racial segregation.

The full U.S. Senate confirmed fellow Trump judiciary nominee Thomas Parker of Baker Donelson last week on a 98-0 vote.

With Parker’s confirmation, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee urged the body to schedule a vote soon on Norris.

The apparent stall in Norris’ nomination follows President Barack Obama’s nomination of U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to Memphis Federal Court judge late in Obama’s second term. The backdrop for Stanton’s appointment was Obama’s move to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, which the Republican Senate majority opposed being so close to a presidential election. After Trump took office, Stanton resigned as U.S. attorney and took a position with the Butler Snow law firm.

The stalled nomination of Norris complicates political decisions to be made by those interested in filling his state Senate seat. Norris’ current term of office in Nashville runs to the end of 2020.

If the U.S. Senate were to confirm Norris before March 29, the special election race would start on the August primary ballot with the primary winners advancing to the November general election. And the filing deadline for the candidates would be noon April 5 along with everyone else on the August ballot.

If Norris were to be confirmed as a federal judge and resign his seat in Nashville later than March 29, the filing deadline for candidates in that race only could be pushed back to June 21 and still make the August ballot for primaries.

Beyond June 21, the executive committees of the local parties would select a nominee by their own rules and a special general election for the state Senate seat would go on the November ballot.

Since state Senate District 32 covers the eastern most part of Shelby County and a large part of Tipton County, the local party committees in both counties would be involved in the selection of a nominee in that event.

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