A pair of U.S. senators have reintroduced legislation this session that would prevent discrimination against LGBTQ citizens when being selected for jury duty. Under current federal law, a juror can be dismissed or struck from a case if either the prosecution or defense objects to having an openly LGBTQ person on the jury.
The bill, known as the Jury ACCESS (Access for Capable Citizens and Equality in Service Selection) Act, would amend federal law to prohibit such discrimination from occurring. If passed, lawyers would not be able to strike jurors solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, just as they are unable to on the basis of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status.
In January 2014, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that it is unconstitutional for a person to be excluded from a jury pool on the basis of his or her sexual orientation, writing that such actions continue a “deplorable tradition of treating gays and lesbians as undeserving of participation in our nation’s most cherished rites and rituals.”
However, because that ruling was never repealed, the U.S. Supreme Court has not definitively ruled on the issue. As a result, it remains in the hands of Congress to amend the law to permanently prohibit striking jurors based solely on their status as members of the LGBTQ community.
“Serving on a jury is a fundamental right and obligation that no one should be prohibited from fulfilling based on his or her sexual orientation,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the bill’s two chief co-sponsors, said in a statement. “I have long worked to fight discrimination, and I am proud to join this effort to eliminate bias from our judicial system.”
“Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity has no place in our country,” added Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). “Every citizen has the right and responsibility to fulfill their civic duty by sitting on a jury and participating in the judicial process. Our jury selection process should represent our country’s values of inclusion and acceptance, not fall prey to discrimination.”
Collins and Shaheen had previously reintroduced the measure in 2015, during the 114th Congress, but it did not have hearings or gain traction. A similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and Pat Meehan (R-Pa.). The proposed bill has previously been endorsed by LGBTQ legal organization Lambda Legal, which filed an amicus brief in the 2014 case heard by the 9th Circuit, arguing that preemptory challenges based on sexual orientation violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
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