The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment governs the exercise of peremptory challenges by a prosecutor in a criminal trial. Although a defendant has no right to a petit jury composed in whole or in part of persons of his own race, a defendant does have the right to be tried by a jury whose members are selected pursuant to nondiscriminatory criteria. Under Batson, a trial is criminal or civil, potential jurors, as well as litigants, have an equal protection right to jury selection procedures that are free from state-sponsored group stereotypes displaying historical prejudice.
On behalf of relator T. B., the mother of a minor child, respondent State of Alabama filed a complaint for paternity and child support against petitioner J. E. B. in the District Court of Jackson County, Alabama. On October 21, 1991, the matter was called for trial and jury selection began. The trial court assembled a panel of 36 potential jurors, 12 males and 24 females. After the court excused three jurors for cause, only 10 of the remaining 33 jurors were male. The State then used 9 of its 10 peremptory strikes to remove male jurors. Petitioner used all but one of his strikes to remove female jurors. As a result, all the selected jurors were female. Before the jury was empaneled, petitioner objected to the State's peremptory challenges on the ground that they were exercised against male jurors solely on the basis of gender, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Petitioner argued that the logic and reasoning of Batson v. Kentucky, which prohibits peremptory strikes solely on the basis of race, similarly forbids intentional discrimination on the basis of gender. The court rejected petitioner's claim and empaneled the all-female jury. The jury found petitioner to be the father of the child, and the court entered an order directing him to pay child support. On post-judgment motion, the court reaffirmed its ruling that Batson does not extend to gender-based peremptory challenges. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed.
Did the Equal Protection Clause forbid peremptory challenges on the basis of gender as well as on the basis of race?
The Court held that intentional discrimination on the basis of gender by state actors violated the equal protection clause. Thus, gender - like race - is an unconstitutional proxy for juror competence and impartiality, because, under the heightened scrutiny afforded gender-based classifications, such peremptory challenge discrimination does not substantially further the state's legitimate interest in achieving a fair and impartial trial, for, among other factors, gender-based peremptory challenges serve to ratify and perpetuate invidious, archaic, and overbroad stereotypes about the relative abilities of men and women. Furthermore, the Court ruled that discrimination in jury selection causes harm to the litigants, the community, and the excluded jurors. The Court further averred that the conclusion that litigants may not strike potential jurors solely on the basis of gender is doctrinally compelled, short of overruling a decade of Supreme Court cases, and does not imply the elimination of all peremptory challenges. In the case at bar, the Court determined that respondent's gender-based peremptory challenges cannot survive the heightened equal protection scrutiny that the Court affords distinctions based on gender. Respondent's rationale - that its decision to strike virtually all males in the case may reasonably have been based on the perception, supported by history, that men otherwise totally qualified to serve as jurors might be more sympathetic and receptive to the arguments of a man charged in a paternity action, while women equally qualified might be more sympathetic and receptive to the arguments of the child's mother - is virtually unsupported and is based on the very stereotypes the law condemns.