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
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
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
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. …