Lawmakers seek to bar discrimination against LGBT jurors
Lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate recently introduced bills banning discrimination against prospective jurors based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Last year, an American Independent investigation revealed numerous instances of likely discrimination against LGBT jurors in both state and federal courts.
Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) introduced the Juror Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 on Jan. 18.
“Serving on a jury is one of America’s most cherished civic duties,” Davis said in a statement announcing the bill. “It is unjust to exclude a particular group of people from participating in civil society because of whom they love or what they look like.”
Davis’ bill has picked up 14 co-sponsors in the House.
This legislation would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the other characteristics – “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status” — that cannot be used to dismiss a person from a jury panel.
In the Senate last week, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced a similar bill, which has the bipartisan support of Sens. Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
According to a press release from Shaheen’s office, the proposed legislation has garnered the support of most major LGBT groups, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
“We simply can’t tolerate discrimination against a potential juror because of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Shaheen said in a statement. “Our country is founded on the principles of inclusion, acceptance, and equality. The jury selection process in federal courts should reflect those principles.”
“Jury service is an important public service,” Sen. Collins added in the statement from Shaheen’s office. “Our bill would prohibit potential jurors from being dismissed for service in federal trials based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Last year, legislation was offered in both the Senate and the House following The American Independent’s reporting. That story revealed cases where jurors in federal and state courts were dismissed because, for example, the juror had an “alternative lifestyle” or appeared to be “a man dressed as a woman.”
Such discrimination is legal in most state-level courts and at the federal level. Currently California and Oregon have laws barring a juror’s dismissal based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently one state, Minnesota, has legislation pending that would bar such discrimination based on sexual orientation.
California’s law was tested last May, when a San Diego judge ruled that prosecutors illegally dismissed at least one juror based sexual orientation in a criminal case against several marriage equality activists. San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Weber called the discrimination in the case “shocking.”
I’ve had something like this happen on a California jury in Vallejo. During the jurist interviews by the prosecutor, I was asked several questions about my personal life. I mentioned my partner and our children. Shortly afterwards, the prosecutor used his right to dismiss jurist to remove me from the jury with no comments. He later removed a second self identified gay woman. I do not think it was about us being gay, I think it was our insights into police behavior toward minorities they were trying to avoid as the defendant was a minority and listening to the questions they asked us gave me the impression they were going to be taking a simply assault charge and trying to elevate it so they were trying to avoid anyone that might have sympathies in that direction. The ironic thing about this was just before I was dismissed I had overheard the defendant’s family, who was not supposed to say anything to any jury member, commenting to one another in Spanish about all the faggots on the jury. I tried to speak to the judge about it as I happened to know that the gay persons on the jury, like me, spoke Spanish, but I was told “No, leave now.” I left a note with the front desk as I left, but to this day I wonder what happened with that trial. It was unfair to both sides and tainted by both ethnic and homophobia. I hope the guy got a fair trial because nothing was fair or sane about the jury selection process.