Friday, March 21, 2008

The Supreme Court Talks About Race

And they got it right. Well, at least seven of the justices did. From a NY Times article:

The Supreme Court, ruling that a Louisiana prosecutor had used improper tactics to pick an all-white jury for a black defendant’s murder trial, on Wednesday overturned the conviction of a man who has been on death row for 12 years.

The vote was 7 to 2, with Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissenting. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the opinion. It was the second time since he joined the court more than two years ago that Justice Alito voted for the defendant in a criminal case in which the court was divided.

Although the opinion hewed closely to the facts of the case, the decision was nonetheless a significant elaboration of the court’s ruling 22 years ago in Batson v. Kentucky. That case opened the door for individual defendants to challenge jury selection on the ground of racial discrimination.

As the article points out, the decision did not break any new ground and it did hew closely to the rather shocking facts of the case, but it did make clear that the court meant what it said in the Batson case when it came to challenging jurors solely on the basis of race.

What I found significant is that Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion, showing not only an appreciation for precedent but also the sense to reject what was clearly an unacceptable prosecutorial strategy. That such racist strategies are still in play in this country only underlines the points that Sen. Barack Obama delivered in his speech on race a couple of days ago.

Both the decision and Sen. Obama's speech give me a little hope. It is Spring, after all, a time for renewal and regeneration.

More like this, please.

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