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Judges meet secretly as U.S. jurist assured they’re not rulemaking, eyeing bills

U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, right, is considering cracking open the secrecy enveloping the Tennessee judicial conferences.(Photo Morgan Yingling)

NASHVILLE, June 16, 2022 — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a temporary restraining order was not required to prevent meetings at the Tennessee Judicial Conference from being closed.

By Jon Styf / The Center Square

U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw reviewed a document related to meetings, provided by the Tennessee Judicial Conference under seal, and determined that no rulemaking or recommending of legislation is involved and thus a TRO was not required.

“Based on Defendant’s representations during the hearing, both parties agreed injunctive relief is unnecessary at this time,” Crenshaw wrote. “The Court withheld its decision pending its review of a document it directed Defendant to file under seal following the hearing.”

Dan McCaleb, executive editor of The Center Square, had sued Michelle Long, director of Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, as the defendant after she issued the new policy in February closing the meetings to the public and press.

The suit contested that a new policy closing meetings at the conference violates the First Amendment because, at the conference, state court judges and committees meet about guidelines for state court policies and rules and the groups also then recommend legislation that directly impacts Tennesseans in the courtroom.

But Long and her group agreed that no rulemaking or recommending of legislation would take place at the closed meetings held at a downtown Nashville hotel.

The Center Square, a non-partisan and nonprofit news wire service, is represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting constitutional rights, in the suit.

The judicial conference was created by Tennessee’s General Assembly to require state judges to deliberate on state court policy. The meetings have been conducted openly, with public and press access, for nearly 34 years.

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