New bill would ensure LGBTQ people get a jury of their peers at trial

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'This is no different than attorneys in the Jim Crow-era striking Black jurors so that they could try Black defendants with all-white juries,' said Rep. Mondaire Jones, who introduced the legislation.

Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones (NY) on Thursday introduced legislation, the Juror Non-Discrimination Act of 2021, that would ban the exclusion of people from jury service based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The legislation was included as a provision of the Equality Act, which was also introduced on Thursday afternoon and would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing, education, public accommodations, and more.

The Equality Act is set be voted on next week, Jones said.

The Juror Non-Discrimination act was included in prior Equality Act legislation that passed the House in 2019. Jones said that he was "honored to pick up the mantle" from then Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), who introduced the bill in the 116th Congress and championed the effort for years. In 2019, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Senate version of the legislation, which had one Republican cosponsor, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

Jones, in an email to the American Independent Foundation, said that as one of the first openly gay Black members of Congress, and as an attorney, the fight is "personal" to him and that it was "reprehensible" that anti-LGBTQ juror discrimination still happens.

"Our Constitution guarantees the right to trial by a jury of one's peers. But LGBTQ+ defendants are deprived of that right when attorneys use sexual orientation or gender identity to dismiss jurors," Jones said. "This is no different than attorneys in the Jim Crow-era striking Black jurors so that they could try Black defendants with all-white juries. We understood that was unjust, and Congress passed legislation to ban juror discrimination on the basis of race. Now we are simply seeking to enact that same protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."

Only 11 states prohibit exclusion from jury service based on sexual orientation in state court and only eight states do so for gender identity.

According to the 2018 book, "Criminal Juries in the 21st Century: Psychological Science and the Law," there have been only three studies that reviewed anti-LGBTQ bias in the courts in detail.

One of those studies was conducted by the LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal, which used 2,376 survey responses on LGBTQ people's court experiences and released its findings in 2015. That study found that 19% of respondents had at some point heard a lawyer, judge, or other court employee "make negative comments" about someone's LGBTQ status. Sixteen percent of them said that their sexual orientation or gender identity had been "raised by an attorney or judge when it was not relevant."

Jones said he is "very optimistic" that the Equality Act will pass this year and be signed into law. During the 2020 campaign, President Joe Biden said the passage of the bill was a "top legislative priority" in his first 100 days in office.

Conversely, Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, falsely claimed he was an ardent supporter of gay people's rights, but would not support the bill. The Senate, then controlled by Republicans, did not take up the bill.

"Now that Democrats have retaken control of the Senate and the White House, we have a mandate to deliver on our promises to the American people by legislating justice," Jones said.

Jones, who is new to Congress, said he plans to continue to push for legislation and policies that advance justice and equity for LGBTQ people. He said he supports the End Racial Profiling Act, which includes the prohibition of police profiling of people based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

"As a gay, Black man in America, I understand all too well the fatal threat of racial and LGBTQ+ profiling in our policing system. We can’t wait any longer to enact legislation to end the scourge of police violence in America," he said.

He said he's also a proponent of the For the People Act, which is focused on improving the voting process, through allowing people more time to vote, requiring states to use automatic voter registration, and revising government ethics rules, among other measures.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.