In its ruling today in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, the US Supreme Court said jury secrecy doesn’t apply if there is evidence deliberations were tainted by racial or ethnic bias. Vincent Southerland, executive director of NYU Law’s just-launched Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, offers these quick thoughts on the decision:

  • “The bottom line is that the Court is making clear that you can’t ignore racism in the administration of justice, which is a powerful statement.”

  • “The opinion is an incredibly powerful acknowledgement of the unique way in which racial bias operates, can taint the administration of justice, and undermine confidence in the legal system. The opinion is also a timely recognition that eradicating the harm of racial bias requires that it be challenged and confronted openly, honestly, and vigorously at every turn.”

Southerland also pointed to these quotes from Justice Anthony Kennedy in the opinion as worth emphasizing:

  • Kennedy’s reference to racial bias as “a familiar and recurring evil that, if left unaddressed, would risk systemic injury to the administration of justice.”
  • “This Court’s decisions demonstrate that racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns. An effort to address the most grave and serious statements of racial bias is not an effort to perfect the jury but to ensure that our legal system remains capable of coming ever closer to the promise of equal treatment under the law that is so central to a functioning democracy.”
  • “A constitutional rule that racial bias in the justice system must be addressed—including, in some instances, after the verdict has been entered—is necessary to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts, a confidence that is a central premise of the Sixth Amendment trial right.”
  • “The nation must continue to make strides to overcome race-based discrimination. The progress that has already been made underlies the Court’s insistence that blatant racial prejudice is antithetical to the functioning of the jury system and must be confronted in egregious cases like this one despite the general bar of the no-impeachment rule. It is the mark of a maturing legal system that it seeks to understand and to implement the lessons of history.”  

Posted March 6, 2017