African Americans were outraged at the allegations that many Black people in Florida were not allowed to vote in the 2000 presidential election. That the state could possibly get away with tactics designed to prevent Blacks from exercising this fundamental constitutional right was a sorry flashback to a not so distant time when racial discrimination was legal. Unfortunately, while flagrant violations of fundamental rights might be shocking to African Americans, they are not an aberration. On a daily basis African Americans are denied one of the most basic fundamental rights inherent in American democracy; the right to sit on a jury.
There are only a few ways that Americans can meaningfully exercise their citizenship; enlisting in the military, running for national office, voting and serving on a jury. Jury service is a basic right of citizenship . With the exception of voting, "for most citizens the honor and privilege of jury duty is their most significant opportunity to participate in the democratic process." Whether "jury service be deemed a right, a privilege, or a duty, the State may no more extend it to some of its citizens and deny it to others on racial grounds than it may invidiously discriminate in the offering and withholding of the elective franchise." The "exclusion of jurors is like the exclusion of voters: the exclusion of voters by reason of race does violence to constitutional ideals, whether or not the exclusion affects the outcome of any particular election."
Despite clear commands from the Supreme Court, since 1880 the right of African Americans to serve as jurors has been elusive. The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment prohibits African Americans from being excluded from a jury because of their race or "on the false assumption that members of [the] race as a group are not qualified to serve as jurors." The Court has held that the 14th Amendment prohibits a State from resorting to discrimination at all stages of the jury selection process . Even though the principles of the 14th Amendment equal protection clause guaranteeing the right of African Americans to be free from jury discrimination "have been consistently and repeatedly reaffirmed in numerous decisions" , these Constitutional guidelines are regularly violated through the use of peremptory challenges.
All people have biases and prejudices. When citizens are asked to serve on a jury, it is their civic duty to be impartial, to put aside their biases in the interests of justice. When African Americans are removed from a jury because of their race, it amounts to a judgement of unfitness for citizenship . As Justice Thurgood Marshall explained, "no one can be expected to perceive himself to be a full participant in our society as a whole, when he is told by a representative of the government that, because of his race, he is too stupid or too biased to serve on a particular jury."
A peremptory challenge is a method of removing jurors from a jury pool. A juror may be removed for any reason; so long as it is a race or gender "neutral" reason. Black jurors are excluded by challenges that are disguised as race neutral but in fact are pretext or surrogates for race.
The following explanations for striking African Americans were found to be race neutral: style of dress and demeanor(1), participation in church activities (2) , lack of education (3) , unemployment and wearing a beard (4) , residence in a high crime neighborhood and unemployment (5) , residence in same neighborhood as defendant (6) , lack of education and business experience (7), being young or being a social worker (8) , membership in Operation PUSH (9) , membership in the NAACP (10), affiliation with Alabama State University(11) , having a relative that was a felon (12) , having a criminal record,poor body language, eye contact, having incarcerated relative (13) , being a social worker and agreeing with the O.J. Simpson verdict (14) , having low intelligence or marginal literacy(15) , being unemployed, 22 years old and wearing an earring (16), living in same the neighborhood as defendant and exhibited a lack of intellectual capacity (17) . Pictured above: Thomas Joe Miller-El on Death Row in Texas. His story is below.
1. U.S. v. Jones, 245 F.3d 990 (2001)
2. US v. Hill, 2001 WL 436023
3. U.S. v. Alanis, 2001 WL 1028298 (2001)
4. Wallace v. State, 530 So. 2d. 856 (Ala. 1988)
5. State v. Alexander, 755 S.W. 2d 397 (Mo. Ct. App. 1988)
6. Smith v. State, 448 S.E. 2d 179 (1994)
7. United States v. Tucker, 836 F.2d 334 (7th Cir. 1988)
8. United States v. Alvarado, 951 F.2d 22 (2d Cir. 1991)
9. People v. Pecor, 286 Ill. App. 3d (1996).
10. People v. Holmes, 651 NE 2d. 608 (Ill. App. Ct. 1995). Reversed and remanded though.
11. Scott v. State, 599 SO.2d 1222, 1227-1228 (Ala. Crim. App 1992).
12. Finley v. State, 725 So. 2d 226 (Miss 1998)
13. State v. White 131 N.C. 734, 509 SE 2d 462 (1998)
14. State v. O'Neal, 87 Ohio St. 3d 402 (2000)
15. City of Beaumont v. Boullion 873 SW2d 425
16. State v. Sexton, 336 NC 321 (1994)
17. People v. Jones, Ill. 3d 440 (1990)
- Excerpts taken from "I heard you Twice the First Time. Thurgood Marshall was right: Peremptory Challenges Must be Eliminated."