Calendar photo caption: Because Black people are underrepresented in prosecutors' offices, where 95% of elected prosecutors are white, and in the judiciary, where similar disparities exist, jury service is often the only opportunity for a community perspective to impact the outcome of a case in America's legal system. (Evan Milligan)
Race-based discrimination in jury selection has been illegal since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875. But nearly 150 years later, the practice remains widespread.
Black people and other people of color are excluded from participating in the jury system at every step of the jury selection process: when the court system creates lists of potential jurors, when potential jurors are notified to come to court, when judges decide which potential jurors are qualified to serve, and when prosecutors use peremptory strikes to remove otherwise qualified jurors for virtually any reason - or not reason at all.
Illegally excluding Black people and people of color from jury service harms excluded jurors and produces wrongful convictions and excessive sentences that disproportionately burden Black people and people of color.
But the problem persists because those who perpetrate or tolerate racial bias - including trial and appellate courts, defense lawyers, lawmakers, and prosecutors - act with impunity.
Despite the Supreme Court's recognition that eliminating racial bias in the selection of juries is necessary "to preserve the public confidence upon which our system of criminal justice depends," courts that fail to create jury lists that fairly represent their communities face no repercussions. Prosecutors who unlawfully strike Black people from juries don't get fined, sanctioned, or held accountable.
The failure to remedy this longstanding problem of racial bias undermines the integrity and imperils the legitimacy of the U.S. legal system.