Today marks the 31st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky, a landmark ruling that declared the exclusion of jurors on the basis of race to be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Batson created a new legal standard in the United States, and it represented a significant expansion of one of the cornerstones of the American legal system: the right to a jury trial.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), has a long history of working to eliminate discrimination from the jury selection process, one that stretches from decades before Batson to the present day. In 1965, LDF argued in Swain v. Alabama that the peremptory striking of Black jurists on the basis of race was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled against LDF and its clients, setting a high standard of intentional discrimination that would stand for 20 years.
Seven years after Swain, in Alexander v. Louisiana, LDF argued successfully before the Supreme Court for the reversal of the rape conviction of an African-American man by an all-white grand jury. The Court ruled that the grand jury selection process violated the equal protection clause.
In 1984, LDF joined the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress in filing an amicus brief in the Batson trial. “Our position is simple,” the brief stated. “The exclusion of a single juror because of his or her race or national origin violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.” The court agreed, and the standard of Swain was at last overturned.
More than three decades after Batson, racial discrimination is still a significant problem in the jury selection process. Our successful advocacy in cases like Edmonson v. Leesville, Miller-El v. Dretke, and Johnson v. California has helped to affirm the principle that juries must be selected without undue bias or discrimination, and LDF remains committed to making the promise of Batson – the promise of equal justice – a reality for all.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.