Bill would outlaw discrimination against LGBT jurors

A New Jersey congressman has introduced a bill that would ban attorneys in federal trials from removing potential jurors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill, introduced May 18 by Democrat Steve Rothman, follows an American Independent investigation documenting numerous state and federal cases in which LGBT individuals may have been removed from juries based on their sexual orientation or gender identity — a practice that federal courts have repeatedly declined to prohibit.

“The fact that it is still lawful for lawyers to dismiss potential jurors solely on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong and has to change,” Rep. Rothman said in a statement.

Rothman’s Juror Non-Discrimination Act (PDF) would “prohibit the exclusion of individuals from service on a Federal jury on account of sexual orientation or gender identity.” It would amend a federal statute that currently bars discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status” in jury service in federal courts.

“Until the 20th century, women in many states were barred from serving on juries and it was not until the 1980s that prosecutors were prohibited from systematically excluding African-Americans from juries,” Rep. Rothman added. “It is past time for America to take the next step against bigotry and inequality and pass the Juror Non-Discrimination Act.”

Rothman’s press release noted that in 2011, the Department of Justice told an appellate court that the government “takes no position” on whether the Supreme Court decision that bars discrimination against jurors based on race or sex should be extended to cover sexual orientation.

Only two states — California and Oregon — have passed laws barring discrimination against LGBT jurors. A third, Minnesota, has a bill pending.

California’s law made news earlier this month when a San Diego judge ruled that prosecutors illegally dismissed at least one juror based on sexual orientation in a criminal case against several marriage equality activists. San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Weber said that the discrimination in the case was “heartbreaking” and “shocking.”

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