With one vote short of a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court stood firm against discrimination in jury selection.
The justices ruled on Monday in favor of an African-American death row inmate who argued that the prosecutor prevented Black people from serving as jurors at his murder trial, CNN reports.
An all-White Georgia jury convicted Timothy Tyrone Foster in the 1987 murder of a 79-year-old White woman. The prosecutor said Foster sexually assaulted and strangled her to death. On appeal, Foster’s lawyers argued for a new trial because the prosecutor violated the court’s 1986 decision that it is unconstitutional to exclude jurors based on race.
His lawyers obtained the prosecution team’s notes through an open records request, nearly two decades after Foster’s conviction. According to CNN, the notes showed that a “B” was written next to the names of potential Black jurors. Foster’s attorneys told the court that the notes, along with other evidence, prove the prosecutor unconstitutionally considered race when deciding which potential jurors to strike.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “The focus on race in the prosecution’s file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep Black prospective jurors off the jury.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, the sole dissenter, said the high court lacked the authority to review the state court’s decision in this case, and should grant the lower court the benefit of the doubt that the prosecutor had race-neutral reasons for striking the potential Black jurors, according to CNN.
The network said this decision will probably trigger a wave of inmates with similar claims as Foster to seek a new trial.
Thomas echoed that view:
“The Court today invites state prisoners to go searching for new ‘evidence’ by demanding the files of the prosecutors who long ago convicted them . …I cannot go along with that ‘sort of sandbagging of state courts.’ New evidence should not justify the relitigation of Batson (Batson v. Kentucky) claims.”
CNN said that Georgia defended the notation by claiming the prosecutor anticipated a future challenge from Foster and prepared race-neutral explanations. But a majority of the justices rejected those explanations.
The network noted that the high court’s decision does not mean that Foster walks free. Instead, it gives him the right to seek a new trial.
SOURCE: CNN | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty | VIDEO SOURCE: Inform