Lambda Legal Supports Legislation to Ban Discrimination in Federal Jury Selection

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October 12, 2012

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 jury selection process.

To address this injustice, Lambda Legal has endorsed bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in federal jury service. A companion bill was also recently introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ).

Currently, federal law bars discrimination in jury selection on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and economic status. The Jury ACCESS (Access for Capable Citizens and Equality in Service Selection) Act of 2012 would amend the United States Code to prohibit attorneys from striking potential jurors based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. 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 March, Lambda Legal filed an amicus brief in a case currently 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.

However, without an express statutory prohibition currently in place, lawyers in state and federal courts continue to disqualify potential jurors on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Such discrimination harms the excluded juror and the litigants, and it undermines public confidence in the fairness and integrity of judicial system. We support Congress’ effort to ensure that it is clear such discrimination has no place in the judicial system and will not be tolerated.

After all, our courts are charged with safeguarding everyone’s rights.