When a prospective juror manifests a prior belief that is both material and contestable (for it is not bias to cling to a belief that no rational person would question), it is the judge's duty to determine whether the juror is capable of suspending that belief for the duration of the trial. When as in this case the record contains no assurances that the belief is "shakable," that the prospective juror can exercise a judgment unclouded by that belief, the verdict cannot stand.
The employee brought suit against her employer under for racial discrimination. The case was tried and the jury returned a verdict for the employer. The employee appealed to the United States Court of Appeals, arguing that her right to impartial trial was violated because of a biased juror, an employer who had regularly dealt with the issues in the case, who should have been struck for cause. However, the employee did not remove the juror as one of her peremptory challenges.
Was the right to impartial trial violated?
The Court held that not using a peremptory challenge for the juror did not impair the employee's right to an impartial jury. The questions about the juror's beliefs were not adequately explored. Had the juror given unequivocal assurances that the judge deemed credible, his ruling could not have been disturbed. When the juror manifested a prior belief that was both material and contestable, it was the judge's duty to determine whether the juror was capable of suspending that belief for the duration of the trial. In this case the record contained no assurances that the belief was "shakable," that the prospective juror could have exercised a judgment unclouded by that belief.