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. Since Batson, the United States Supreme Court has reaffirmed repeatedly its commitment to jury selection procedures that are fair and nondiscriminatory.
The state of Alabama, on behalf of the mother of a minor child, filed a complaint for paternity against petitioner, J. E. B. The jury was comprised of all women. Petitioner claimed that the state’s use of peremptory challenges to exclude male jurors on the basis of their gender violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The appellate court upheld the trial court's ruling that the Fourteenth Amendment did not extend to gender-based peremptory challenges.
Does the Fourteenth Amendment extend to gender-based peremptory challenges?
The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited discrimination in jury selection on the basis of gender regardless of whether the challenge involved a male or female. According to the Court, intentional discrimination on the basis of gender by state actors violates the equal protection clause; and, 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. The Court opined that 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 determined that discrimination in jury selection causes harm to the litigants, the community, and the excluded jurors. In this case, respondent cited studies that concluded that women and men had varying attitudes as support for its gender-based peremptory challenges. The Court held that respondent's reasoning did not provide an exceedingly persuasive justification for gender-based discrimination. As a result, respondent's exercise of peremptory challenges to exclude male jurors violated the Equal Protection Clause.