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Unanimous Win in Jury Cross-Section Case

In a unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court has reversed a decision of the Sixth Circuit that came close to imposing racial quotas on local procedures for summoning juries. The case of Berghuis v. Smith was decided under the "fair cross-section requirement" of the Sixth Amendment, invented by the Court in 1975.

The local courts had a race-neutral selection system. However, practices such as generous excusals for people with child care or transportation problems had a "disparate impact" reducing the number of black jurors below their proportion in the general population. How would you "fix" that, if you considered it a problem? Must we force people to serve despite their difficulties? Should we "oversample" (i.e., summon more often than random) black persons, thus discriminating against them and imposing a heavier burden on them solely on the basis of their race?

Justice Thomas added a brief concurrence noting that there simply is no such requirement in the Sixth Amendment. The prohibition on racial discrimination in jury selection comes mainly from the Equal Protection Clause, perhaps with some Due Process Clause in the mix. But since no party asked the Court to overrule Taylor v. Louisiana, he would not address that point further. That is one of the downsides to being a nonparty.


Yes, you got a nice little "shout out" from Thomas there! (I suspect I will NOT get anything similar regarding Miranda in Berghuis v Thompkins---but a win for the AG in the case is what matters).

Jonathan Adler's post at VC, linked by federalist, notes how really badly USCA 6 is doing this term. We previously noted here how remarkably successful Michigan was in getting certiorari. The two are not entirely coincidental.

Here's a line from SCOTUS' opinion in Berghuis v. Smith:

"Despite marked differences between Smith’s case and Duren’s, and a cogent Michigan Supreme Court decision holding that Smith 'ha[d] not shown . . . systematic exclusion,'People v. Smith, 463 Mich. 199, 205, 615 N. W. 2d 1, 3 (2000), the Sixth Circuit found the matter settled."

That's going to leave a mark.

As well as:

"The Michigan Supreme Court, however, had rejected Smith’s “siphoning” plea for lack of proof that the assignment procedure caused underrepresentation. Smith, 463 Mich., at 205, 615 N. W. 2d, at 3. As that determination was not at all unreasonable, the Sixth Circuit had no warrant to disturb it."

Another "easy case" for Judge Clay.

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