Use of Race in Picking Jury Banned

Associated Press
Sunday, December 4, 2005

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."

Justice Robert P. Young Jr., who voted in favor, said considering race, sex, religion or nationality when seating a jury raises constitutional questions.

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.

"While on its face the language appears to prevent discrimination in the jury selection process, in reality its application will do nothing to enhance the constitutional guarantee of a jury of one's peers," Linda V. Parker, director of the Department of Civil Rights, said in a statement.

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.

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