Monday, June 13, 2005

When is Racism not Racism? 

A recent Supreme Court decision left me with mixed feelings, but mostly with that sick churning in my gut that once again the majority has ruled based upon how they would like things to be rather than how the law is documented.

The case before the Court was a capital conviction of a Texas man for the murder of a hotel clerk, in which the Court overturned the 5th Circuit and ordered a new trial for the prisoner. At issue was the contention that the prosecutor "stacked the jury" with whites and that this was done by specifically striking nine of the ten potential black jurors based upon their race. In reaching their decision, the Court rejected the Texas prosecutor's argument that the action to strike those particular candidates was based upon their vehement opposition to the death penalty.

This finds me somewhat conflicted. On the one hand it is important to ensure all charged, especially those in capital cases, not be subjected to racism and bigotry at the hands of their jury. On the other hand, though, it is the job of the prosecution to do their best to obtain a conviction, just as it is the job of the defense to obtain a acquittal. As such, shouldn't the prosecution be able to strike any potential jurors they wish to do their job to the best of their abilities. After all, if statistical studies demonstrate a general reluctance on behalf of blacks to convict in capital cases and interviews with the individuals reveal an opposition to the death penalty, is it really accurate to say excluding them from the process is racially motivated? If the prosecution felt those ten individuals, regardless of their race, posed the greatest threat to obtaining a conviction why shouldn't they be able to strike them?

The defense cited prosecution training manuals from the 60s to early 80s that advised removing blacks or Jews from death penalty juries. I generally think of racism and bigotry as involving negative treatment or opinion based upon unfounded reasoning. But even if the prosecutor's striking of potential jurors was based upon largely race, how, in the face of much statistical evidence supporting the theory that black jurors are less likely to return a death sentence, can one claim that such action is either negative or unfounded? Any counsel's action to strike a potential juror is solely based upon an assessment, either as a result of profile or interview, that the particular juror won't find in the manner desired.

Are we now to see minimum racial quotas for juries? Racism has been and is a blight on our national soul, but the immediate assumption of racism in all matters that have a racial component is fast becoming an equal danger. Just a racism erodes trust and self confidence, the assumption of racism erodes trust and honesty. As we shun the former, so should we abhor the latter.

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