The Equal Protection

Topics: United States Constitution, Supreme Court of the United States, Jury Pages: 12 (4245 words) Published: January 3, 2011
Holding the state law prohibiting non-white males from sitting on a jury was a violation of equal protection.

The purpose of the equal protection clause was to provide protection for the civil rights of blacks. This law clearly discriminates against blacks. Furthermore, any classification of jurors by race would be unconsitutional, whether it be nationality based or otherwise. That is not to say that the state may not prescribe qualification for its jurors, it just may not do so with respect to race. [But age, sex, and education was okay. This is the first exercise of racial protection under the equal protection clause.]

October Term, 1879


[100 U.S. 303]

ERROR to the Supreme Court of Appeals of the State of West Virginia.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.

Mr. Charles Devens and Mr. George O. Davenport for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. Robert White, Attorney-General of West Virginia, and Mr. James W. Green, contra.

1. The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States considered, and held to be one of a series of constitutional provisions having a common purpose; namely, to secure to a recently emancipatedrace, which had been held in slavery through many generations, all the civil rights that the superior race enjoy, and to give to it the protection of the general government, in the enjoyment of such rights, whenever they should be denied by the States. Whether the amendment hadother, and if so what, purposes, not decided.

2. The amendment not only gave citizenship and the privileges of citizenship to persons of color, but denied to any State the power to withhold from them the equal protection of the laws, and invested Congress with power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce its provisions.

3. The amendment, although prohibitory in terms, confers by necessary implication a positive immunity, or right, most valuable to persons of the colored race,--the right to exemption from unfriendly legislation against them distinctively as colored,--exemption from discriminations, imposed by public authority, which imply legal inferiority in civil society, lessen the security of their rights, and are steps towards reducing them to the condition of a subject race.

4. The statute of West Virginia, which, in effect, singles out and denies to colored citizens the right and privilege of participating in the administration of the law, as jurors, because of their color, though qualified in all other respects, is, practically, a brand upon them, and a discrimination against them which is forbidden by the amendment. It denies to such citizens the equal protection of the laws, since the constitution of juries is a very essential part of the protection which the trial by jury is intended to secure. They very idea of a jury is that it is a body of men composed of the peers or equals of the person whose rights it is selected or summoned to determine; that is, of persons having the same legal status in society as that which he holds.

5. Where, as here, the State statute secures to every white man the right of trial by jury selected from, and without discrimination against, his race, and at the same time permits or requires such discrimination against the colored man because of his race, the latter is not equally protected by law with the former.

6. Sect. 641 of the Revised Statutes, which declares that 'when any civil suit or criminal prosecution is commenced in any State court, for any cause whatsoever, against any person who is denied or cannot enforce in the judicial tribunals of the State, or in the past of the State where such suit or prosecution is pending, any right secured to him by any law providing for the equal civil rights of citizens of the United States, . . . such suit or prosecution may, upon the petition of such defendant, filed in said State court, at any time before the trial or final hearing of the...
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