J.E.B. v. Alabama
511 U.S. 127, 114 S. Ct. 1419, 128 L. Ed. 2d 89 (1994)

  • T.B. and J.E.B. had a child together and then separated. Alabama sued J.E.B. to get child support.
  • During jury selection, 36 potential jurors were called, 12 male and 24 female. Three jurors were excluded for cause, leaving 10 male and 22 female in the venire.
    • Btw, the venire are the pool of people called to be jurors.
    • Also, the voir dire is the process of selecting which people will be on a particular jury.
  • Under the rules of this particular court, Alabama was allowed to exclude 10 potential jurors (aka preemptory strikes). They used 9 of their 10 to exclude male jurors. J.E.B. used one of his preemptory strikes to exclude the remaining male juror, resulting in an all female jury.
    • You can imagine that in a child support case, having an all female jury is likely to be prejudicial against the father.
  • J.E.B. objected to Alabama’s use of its preemptory strikes on the grounds that they excluded jurors solely on the basis of gender.
    • J.E.B. argued that this violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
      • In the case of Batson v. Kentucky (476 U.S. 79 (1986)), it was held that you could not use preemptory strikes to exclude jurors solely on the basis of race.
    • The judge rejected J.E.B.’s argument and allowed the trial to go ahead with an all female jury.
  • The Trial Court found for T.B. and ordered J.E.B. to pay child support. J.E.B. appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. J.E.B. appealed.
  • The Alabama Supreme Court refused to hear the case (aka grant certioari). J.E.B. appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and ordered a retrial.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the 14th Amendment forbids intentional discrimination on the basis of gender, just as it prohibits discrimination on the basis of race.
      • “Gender-based classifications, require ‘an exceedingly persuasive justification’ in order to survive constitutional scrutiny. Parties still may remove jurors whom they feel might be less acceptable than others on the panel; gender simply may not serve as a proxy for bias.”
    • The Court found that excluding jurors based on gender, “sends the message that certain individuals, for no reason other than gender, are presumed to be unqualified by State actors to decide important questions upon which reasonable persons could disagree.
    • The Court noted that while you could not exclude jurors solely on the basis of gender, the concept of preemptory strikes was important and must be kept a part of the jury selection process.
    • The Court noted that it would be ok to exclude jurors for such things as “being in the military” even though that would preferentially exclude males.
  • In a concurrence, it was noted that placing too many restrictions on the voir dire process would result in poorer quality juries.
    • In addition, the concurrence noted that there is data showing that women and men vote differently in certain types of cases, so there is a legitimate reason for why you would want to exclude a certain gender.
    • The concurrence suggested that only the government should be ‘gender-neutral’, and let criminal defendants and civil litigants exclude whomever they felt was in their best interest to exclude.
  • In a dissent, it was argued that J.E.B. systematically excluded women with his preemptory strikes. Since both sides in the case excluded different genders, there would appear to be no systematic discrimination. Since there is data proving that different genders vote differently on juries, both sides should be free to exclude whomever they feel will be prejudicial against them.
    • The dissent suggested that you shouldn’t look at individual preemptory strikes, but instead look at the overall statistics, which show approximately equal numbers of men and women are struck.
      • The dissent felt that there is no discrimination. You can’t exclude women because you think that women are incompetent in general, but you can exclude women if you think they will vote against you.
  • Btw, even up until the 1970s some jurisdiction regularly excluded women from juries because they were deemed to be “defective” (the doctrine of proper defectum sexus), and they were too “delicate” to withstand hearing about gruesome and lurid details of criminal activity.