The equal protection clause of the U.S. Const. amend. XIV forbids the prosecutor in a state criminal action to exercise peremptory challenges to remove members of the defendant's race from the venire. A defendant in such a case may establish a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination in the selection of the petit jury solely on evidence concerning the prosecutor's exercise of peremptory challenges at the trial.
Appellant construction worker brought an action against appellee concrete company for injuries sustained on a construction site. During jury empanelment, appellee used two of its three peremptory challenges against black jurors. The final jury consisting of 11 white and 1 black awarded damages to appellant, but found him to be 80 percent contributorily negligent with regard to his own injuries. Appellant claimed the lower court erred in not ordering appellee to state a neutral reason as to why black jurors were excluded, even though the lower court had answered the question by stating that discriminatory peremptory challenges were banned in criminal, but not civil litigation.
Does the guarantee of equal protection of the laws forbid the exercise of peremptory challenges on racial grounds in a civil case?
The court vacated the decision of the lower court and remanded the matter to the lower court for further proceedings. The court found that the guarantee of equal protection extended to banning the use of peremptory challenges on racial grounds by a private litigant in federal court. The court found there was no reason to differentiate between service on a jury on a criminal or civil case. Thus, the court determined that if appellant construction worker establishes a prima facie case of racial discrimination, the lower court must require appellee concrete company to show a neutral reason for its challenges. If appellee is unable to do so, the lower court shall order a new trial.