LGBT Jurors Deserve the Right to Serve

LGBT Jurors Deserve the Right to Serve
Mayo 4, 2012
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This week, a San Diego Superior Court judge brought us one step closer to a system where non-discriminatory means are used to evaluate potential jury members, including those who are LGBT. The case concerned the “Equality 9” protestors, who were arrested in 2010 for demonstrating outside of the county clerk’s office in response to Proposition 8. During jury selection, prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove two gay prospective jurors from the jury pool.

In a rare move, the judge dismissed the entire jury, ruling that prosecutors violated the defendants' rights to a fair trial by dismissing potential jurors based on their sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, the judge’s ruling in this case is the exception, not the rule. The 1986 Supreme Court case of Batson v. Kentucky prohibits excluding potential jurors from service based solely on their race, a holding that has been extended to other classifications such as sex and ethnicity. In People v. Wheeler, the Supreme Court of California held that striking prospective jurors on the sole basis of group membership violated the right to an impartial jury, as guaranteed by the California Constitution. California is also one of the only states with a law banning jury discrimination based on sexual orientation. Today, at the federal level and in nearly every state, lawyers continue to disqualify potential jurors on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Our courts are charged with safeguarding everyone’s civil rights. Discriminatory practices in jury selection harm not only the accused, but prevent potential LGBT jurors from being accessed based on what should be the central criteria: their individual abilities to remain impartial and to carefully consider the evidence. By eliminating discrimination from our courts we can support public confidence in the integrity of the American judicial system and reaffirm our commitment to justice for all. Learn more about how each of us can take action to protect fair courts.