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Facts and Case Summary - J.E.B. v. Alabama

Summary of a Fourteenth Amendment Landmark case:
J.E.B. v. Alabama 511 U.S. 127 (1994)

Facts:

The State of Alabama, acting on behalf of the child, J.T., filed a complaint for paternity and child support against J.E.B. The state used its peremptory challenges to strike nine of 10 potential male jurors from the jury. J.E.B., the defendant, used one challenge to strike the remaining male juror. As a result, all the selected jurors were female. J.E.B. claimed that the state's use of the peremptory challenge to exclude nearly all male jurors violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court rejected petitioner's claim. The jury found petitioner to be the father of the child, and the court entered an order directing him to pay child support.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, and the Supreme Court of Alabama refused to hear the case. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Issue:

Whether the use of peremptory challenges to remove a potential juror from the jury pool because of the potential juror's gender violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution?

Ruling:

Yes.

Reasoning:

(Blackmun, J.) In a 6–3 decision, the Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause prohibits striking potential jurors not only because of their race or ethnicity, but also because of their gender. The Court concluded that discrimination on the basis of gender in jury selection does not substantially further the state's legitimate interest in achieving a fair and impartial trial.

The Court noted that "[w]hile the prejudicial attitudes toward women in this country have not been identical to those held toward racial minorities, the similarities between the experiences of racial minorities and women, in some contexts, overpower those differences." "Discrimination in jury selection, whether based on race or on gender, causes harm to the litigants, the community, and the individual jurors who are wrongfully excluded from participation in the judicial process." Moreover, the Court held that when a state exercises peremptory challenges based on gender stereotypes, it ratifies and reinforces prejudicial views of the relative abilities of men and women. Finally, the Court noted that its holding does not imply the elimination of all peremptory challenges, but simply concludes that gender cannot serve as a proxy for bias.

Concurrence:

(O'Connor, J) Justice O'Connor agreed with the Court's conclusion that the state's reasons for excluding jurors based on gender were far from "exceedingly persuasive," but asserted that the Court's conclusion should be limited to the government's use of gender-based peremptory strikes. Justice O'Connor noted the increased burden posed by additional constitutional restraints on the use of peremptory challenges. In light of the importance of peremptory challenge and the increased burden imposed by the majority's holding, Justice O'Connor argues that the Equal Protection Clause analysis should only apply to discrimination by state actors, namely the prosecution.

(Kennedy, J.) Justice Kennedy agreed with the Court's conclusion and noted that an individual who is denied jury service because of a peremptory challenge on the basis of sex is not less injured than the individual who is denied jury service because of a law banning members of the sex from serving as jurors. Justice Kennedy also wrote that "it is important to recognize that a juror sits not as a representative of a racial or sexual group but as an individual citizen. Nothing would be more pernicious to the jury system than for society to presume that persons of different backgrounds go to the jury room to voice prejudice."

Dissent:

(Rehnquist, C.J.) Chief Rehnquist asserted that there are sufficient differences between race and gender discrimination such that the principle of Batson should no be extended to peremptory challenges to potential jurors bases on sex. Specifically, the Chief Justice noted that racial groups comprise numerical minorities in society, whereas the population is almost equally divided between men and women. He also contends that racial equality has proved a more challenging goal to achieve on many fronts than gender equality. Finally, he asserts that the two sexes differ, both biologically and in experience; as such, "it is not merely 'stereotyping' to say that these differences may produce a difference in outlook which is brought to the jury room. Accordingly, use of a peremptory challenge based on sex is "not the sort of derogatory and invidious act which peremptory challenges directed at black jurors may be."

(Scalia, J) Justice Scalia contends that much of the majority's discussion regarding prejudice against women is irrelevant because the case involves state action against men. Further, he asserts that the conclusion damages the whole character of the peremptory challenge system as well as the entire justice system due to the need for explanation and the increased potential for collateral review of the jury selection process.