News (USA)

People can still be kicked off juries for being LGBTQ+. This out congresswoman’s bill would end that

Becca Balint (D-VT)
Becca Balint (D-VT)

A bill introduced by out Rep. Becca Balint of Vermont (D) and Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas (D) could prohibit discrimination in jury selection based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

The Juror Non-Discrimination Act of 2024 amends the United States Code to add to a list of protected characteristics for jiury selection that currently includes race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and economic status.

House co-sponsors for the bill include out Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Robert Garcia (D-CA), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Ritchie Torres (D-NY).

The bill is included in the Equality Act, the landmark package of LGBTQ+ rights bills that would guarantee full equality for LGBTQ+ Americans. That legislation is currently languishing in the Republican-controlled House.

As written, U.S. Code doesn’t explicitly protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in the jury selection process, Balint and Fletcher said while introducing the legislation on Wednesday.

“When we exclude people from our judicial process, we make our system inherently less free and fair,” Balint explained. “Diverse participation in the American justice system is critical to strengthening our democracy.” 

“Explicitly banning this kind of discrimination is an important step to ending anti-LGBTQI+ bias everywhere,” she added. “It’s long past time our community is guaranteed equality under federal law and is free from discrimination because of who we are or who we love.” 

“Jury service is a privilege and a responsibility of citizenship,” said Congresswoman Fletcher. “As a former courtroom lawyer, I know how important it is to ensure that prospective jurors have the opportunity to serve and that parties have an impartial jury of their peers.”

The Juror Non-Discrimination Act ensures “LGBTQI+ people can serve on juries and neither fear nor experience discrimination in jury selection,” Fletcher added.

In February, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito made his own pitch for expanded protections for jurors, except for religion. Alito’s suggestion occurred in a complaint within his opinion issued in the case of Jean Finney, an out lesbian who sued her employer, the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC), for discrimination. 

Three potential jurors in that case said they believed gay sex is a sin, and Finney’s lawyers asked the judge to exclude them from serving on the jury since their stated hatred towards the plaintiff brought their impartiality into question. The judge agreed to “err on the side of caution.”

Finney won, but Missouri appealed. While the Supreme Court turned down the case on technical grounds, Alito wrote that the jurors suffered religious discrimination —  all because of their views marriage equality.

According to the Justice, in the wake of what he called “the Court’s cavalier treatment of religion” in the Obergefell decision, “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.”

Obergefell enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss,” Alito wrote.

“Since Obergefell, parties have continually attempted to label people of goodwill as bigots merely for refusing to alter their religious beliefs in the wake of prevailing orthodoxy.”

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