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Law School Case Brief

Strauder v. West Virginia - 100 U.S. 303 (1879)


The right to a trial by jury is guaranteed to every citizen of West Virginia by the West Virginia Constitution, and the composition of juries is a very essential part of the protection such a mode of trial is intended to secure. The very idea of a jury is a body of men composed of the peers or equals of the person whose rights it is selected or summoned to determine; that is, of his neighbors, fellows, associates, persons having the same legal status in society as that which he holds.


Defendant appealed from a judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeals of the State of West Virginia, which affirmed defendant's conviction for murder. The trial court convicted defendant after denying defendant's petition for removal to federal court. Prior to trial, he petitioned for removal under a federal statute which provided for removal when individuals in state court were denied their civil rights. Defendant objected to the fact that black men were ineligible for jury duty under 1873-73 W. Va. Act 102.


Does the Constitution of the United States afford its citizens a right to trial by a jury selected and empaneled without discrimination against prospective jurors on account of a juror's race or color?




The court held that the state statute unconstitutionally discriminated on the basis of race and that it amounted to a denial of equal protection. The court further ruled that the congressional power to enforce U.S. Const. amend. XIV gave Congress sufficient authority to enact the federal removal statute. The court concluded that Congress had the power to authorize removal when a right under federal law or the U.S. Constitution was involved. Therefore, it was error for the state trial court to proceed to trial after defendant filed for removal based on a denial of equal protection. The court reversed the judgment of the state supreme court and remitted the case with instructions to reverse the judgment of the state trial court.

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