Supreme Court Considers Sex Discrimination in Jury Selection

Article excerpt

Keeping people off juries because of their sex promotes outmoded stereotypes and should be as unlawful as jury selection based on race, the Supreme Court was told Tuesday.

"You should not be able to exclude a male or a female simply because of their gender," argued a lawyer for a man from Alabama. The man said his rights were violated when an all-female jury decided he fathered a baby out of wedlock. The Justice Department also argued in favor of this position.

But a lawyer for Alabama said barring jury selection based on sex "would raise more problems than it could possibly cure."

"Both men and women sit on juries throughout this country," said Lois N. Brasfield, assistant Alabama attorney general. Sex discrimination in jury selection is not so pervasive as discrimination based on race, she added.

The Supreme Court banned race-based exclusions of potential jurors in a series of rulings starting in 1986.

John F. Porter III, the lawyer for the paternity defendant, James E. Bowman, said the equal protection clause of the Constitution's 14th Amendment requires the same ban on jury strikes based on sex.

Sex-based jury decisions often are based on unwarranted stereotypes, Porter said.

Justice Antonin Scalia asked: "Are you saying there's nothing to the fact that a woman juror or a man may have a different outlook" on a rape or paternity case?

A stereotype should not be applied to all men or all women even if it is largely true, Porter replied.

Scalia said: "That's what (jury selections) are all about; it's a playing of the odds."

Brasfield argued that the court's ban on race-based jury selection is a special case because many blacks were routinely kept off juries until the high court acted in 1986.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that Alabama barred women from serving on juries until 1967, long after blacks were allowed to serve. …

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