A Measure to Ban LGBT Discrimination in Jury Selection Advances in the Senate

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July 29, 2013
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Last week, the U.S. Senate took steps to ensure that potential LGBT jurors in federal trials could not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A diverse and representative jury is an essential component of a fair and impartial legal system. Unfortunately, many minority groups, including LGBT Americans, continue to face discrimination in the courtroom, denying them equal access to the courts and an equal opportunity to participate in civic life.

For LGBT people, their most common court contact is during jury service. The few studies conducted on gay and lesbian persons’ experiences in the judicial system show that the more contact participants had with the courts, the more they reported a negative experience. According to a California study, 50% of gay and lesbian respondents thought the courts were not providing fair and unbiased treatment.

Currently, federal law only explicitly bars discrimination in jury selection on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and economic status. Without an express statutory prohibition in place, lawyers in state and federal courts continue to disqualify potential LGBT jurors on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Last fall, Lambda Legal endorsed the Jury ACCESS Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), that would amend the U.S. Code to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in federal jury service.

This Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over the judiciary, approved the language from the Jury ACCESS Act as part of the fiscal year 2014 financial services appropriations bill, passing by a 16-14 vote.

The prohibition on excluding jurors solely on the basis of race originated in the 1986 Supreme Court case of Batson v. Kentucky, which was later extended to other classifications such as sex and ethnicity. Last year, Lambda Legal filed an amicus brief in a case before the Ninth Circuit arguing that peremptory challenges based on sexual orientation violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and are prohibited under the ruling in Batson and cases that followed it.

Lambda Legal also recently launched a new Government Misconduct Share Your Story Project to collect and highlight the real and appalling accounts of misconduct in the judicial, criminal justice, school, and prison systems. This follows Lambda Legal’s 2012 Protected and Served? Survey of LGBT/HIV Contact with Police, Courts and Prisons.

Our courts are charged with safeguarding everyone’s rights. If you have been a victim of LGBT discrimination during jury duty – or in any other contact with the government – sharing your story can help prevent abuses in the future.