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 U.S Constitution. The constitution 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.


A plaintiff in error was convicted of murder. Prior to trial, he petitioned the court for removal under U.S. Rev. Stat. § 641, which provided for removal when individuals in state court were denied their civil rights. Denial of civil rights stemmed from the fact that black men were ineligible for jury duty under 1873-73 W. Va. Act 102. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeals of the State of West Virginia affirmed his conviction for murder. 


Was the conviction proper?




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 the Fourteenth Amendment 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.

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