Sex Bias on Juries Limited Women's Groups Hail High Court's Ruling

Article excerpt

Removing jurors because of their sex is just as unconstitutional as removing them because of their race, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The 6-3 decision is the latest in a string of rulings that have revolutionized the jury selection system by forcing lawyers to give nondiscriminatory reasons for removing people from juries.

The decision, handed down in Washington, will have an impact in Missouri, where lawyers have been permitted to remove jurors solely because of their sex. Prosecutors now may have to go back and justify some of their jury challenges in cases they already have won.

Women's rights groups hailed the decision as a "great victory for women's legal rights," although the ruling came in a case of alleged discrimination against a man.

In an Alabama paternity case, a government attorney removed nine out of 10 men from the jury pool. The resulting jury, all women, found that the man was the father of the child in question and owed child support.

The court said sex-discrimination in jury selection violates the equal-protection guarantee of the Constitution. "The discrimination serves to ratify and perpetuate invidious, archaic, and overbroad stereotypes about the relative abilities of men and women," Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote for the court.

In a sarcastic dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the opinion was "an inspiring demonstration of how thoroughly up-to-date and right-thinking we justices are in matters pertaining to the sexes . . . and how sternly we disapprove the male chauvinist attitudes of our predecessors." He accused the court of adopting a "unisex" approach to the Constitution.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia. Joining Blackmun were Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens and Anthony M. Kennedy.

O'Connor expressed reservations. She said she was not sure that the decision would always result in a fairer jury or a more just outcome for women.

O'Connor said she would not vote in future cases to extend Tuesday's decision to jury challenges by defense lawyers and lawyers in private civil cases. Tuesday's decision applies only to jury challenges by government attorneys.

O'Connor said that limiting the challenges of defense lawyers might keep a battered wife from using her jury challenges to get women on her jury.

Despite O'Connor's reservations, legal experts expect the court to extend the gender decision just as they did their earlier race decisions.

In the Alabama case, the state sued James Bowman, maintaining that he fathered Phillip Rhett Bowman Bible. The boy was born to Teresia Bible in 1989, and blood tests showed a 99.92 probability that he was Bowman's.

The jury pool had 23 women and 10 men. …