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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Courts - Michigan Supreme Court adopts rule prohibiting use a person's race, sex, religion or nationality to select jurors

An AP story in today's Washington Post reports:

LANSING, Mich. -- Judges in Michigan cannot use a person's race, sex, religion or nationality to select jurors under a new rule approved by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The order, approved on a 4 to 3 vote, was released on Friday and will take effect on Jan. 1.

Under the order, discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex when selecting a jury "is prohibited even in cases where the purpose would be to achieve balanced representation." * * *

Opponents of the rule change, including the Michigan Judges Association and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said it is unnecessary, vague and could prompt legal challenges. * * *

The ruling follows efforts by some Wayne County judges to have more racially representative juries. A study ordered by a judge there found that 27 percent of those who report for jury duty in Wayne County are black, though blacks account for 42 percent of the county population. Court administrators have responded by trying to issue more jury summonses to people in cities with higher percentages of black residents.

[More] Here is a story from the Detroit Free-Press. A quote:
"My concern is, what steps are being taken to fix this?" asked Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas, speaking of the overall racial imbalance in juries.

She said she has never tinkered with the process but is frustrated by a system that she believes is unfair. "I mean, are we just going to continue to have juries that aren't representative?" she asked.

Thomas said a new state law prohibiting felons from serving as jurors makes it even more difficult to balance the juries because a disproportionate percentage of African Americans have felony convictions.

Chief Judge Mary Beth Kelly said the court is aggressively tracking down people who fail to respond to jury questionnaires -- many of them minorities -- and educating them about the importance of serving. An expert from a national center for court studies will assess the situation this month and offer recommendations, she said. * * *

[T]he county prosecutor's appellate chief, Timothy Baughman, complained that some judges meddled with the selection process in individual cases -- dismissing prospective jurors solely to try to achieve a racial balance. But excusing jurors based on their race -- regardless of the reason -- is illegal, the Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that adds language to court rules making that clear.

"Discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex during the selection process of a jury is prohibited, even in cases where the purpose would be to achieve balanced representation," the ruling read.

The three dissenting judges -- echoing many in Michigan's legal community -- said the rule change was unnecessary and redundant because the law was already clear.

The story includes this link to the Michigan Supreme Court's order.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 4, 2005 09:02 AM
Posted to General Law Related