An interesting case is unfolding in the Ninth Circuit right now, involving a lesbian who was dismissed from a jury for a case involving homosexuality:
Trial lawyers should be barred from dismissing potential jurors because of their sexual orientation, defense attorneys argued Thursday in a case that, if successful, could extend constitutional protection from discrimination to homosexuality along with race, creed and gender.
The arguments made to a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena arose from a prosecutor’s decision last year to strike a lesbian from the jury weighing assault charges brought against a gay Nigerian inmate at the federal lockup in Los Angeles.
The defense claims that the judge in the original case accepted a “bogus” reason for dismissing the woman as a juror, while the U.S. Attorney on the case claims that it had nothing to do with her sexual orientation in the first place.
This is actually a really interesting case to me, partially because I recently experienced Jury Duty for the first time. During the voir dire process, attorneys are given fairly free reign to accept or dismiss jurors for pretty much any reason. They’re not, however, allowed to dismiss jurors solely based on race, sex or religion, and if this case is successful, sexual orientation would be added to the list. That’s as it should be. We understand that a gay judge is going to be just as impartial as any other judge, even when ruling on issues that directly affect gay people, just as we understand that to ask an African-American judge to recuse herself on a case involving African-Americans would be the height of bigotry.
What’s funny to me is that this actually did come up when I had Jury Duty, and I barely noticed it at the time. The case I was called for involved a young man who had been murdered, and we were informed by the defense attorney that the case “involved homosexuality,” and he asked if anyone in the room had a problem with that. It was left unclear whether we were dealing with a hate crime, a crime of passion, a closet issue, all of the above or something else. I had not made it into the jury box yet, but having seen a journalist dismissed out of hand, I had a sneaking suspicion that, even if I made it into the jury box, I wouldn’t be called for that sequestered jury. When the defense attorney mentioned homosexuality, I absolutely knew that I wasn’t going to be called for that jury. The strange thing was that, though I had been grousing about having jury duty all day long, at that point I was actually kind of interested in serving on that jury, as it looked like it would be a fascinating experience. So, yes, I was a bit relieved when the jury was put together before they had a chance to question me, but I certainly had a little moment of indignation, realizing that my impartiality would have been called into question, because I’m a gay man who happens to be an opinion writer and reporter. [Frankly, the latter part might have bothered the lawyers the most.] Just as the jury was composed of several different races and ethnicities, on this case involving young African-American men, there should have been no reason to strive for an all-straight jury on a case involving gay people.
According to the article linked above, it’s hard to tell where this specific case will go, as the merits of this juror’s dismissal are a bit of an open question, and if the panel decides that it really had nothing to do with her sexual orientation, the broader question of anti-discrimination in jury pools may go unanswered. But it’s just one more little place where LGBT people end up on the receiving end of discrimination, even if we don’t always realize it. And little places add up.