A US federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that lawyers are not allowed to exclude potential jurors based on their sexual orientation.
The unanimous ruling was made by a three-judge panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and extended the protections once only offered against race or gender discrimination.
This week’s decision by the court overturned a jury verdict in a federal antitrust trial which involved HIV medication, and was challenged because a gay prospective juror was removed from a jury list.
“Gay and lesbian people have suffered discrimination for long enough, and should be offered constitutional protections already given to race”, the three-judge panel said.
“Strikes exercised on the basis of sexual orientation continue this deplorable tradition of treating gays and lesbians as undeserving of participation in our nation’s most cherished rites and rituals,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the court.
The panel also went on to call jury service “one of the most important responsibilities of an American citizen”.
“It gives gay and lesbian individuals a means of articulating their values and a voice in resolving controversies that affect their lives as well as the lives of all others,” Judge Reinhardt went on. “To allow peremptory strikes because of assumptions based on sexual orientation is to revoke this civil responsibility, demeaning the dignity of the individual and threatening the impartiality of the judicial system.”
The US Supreme Court in 1986 banned discrimination based on race for prospective jurors, and later to prohibit discrimination based on gender.
Some states such as California already have laws banning the discrimination, but it is noted that lawyers can get around the law by giving a non-discriminatory reason for the strike.
Thirteen civil rights groups, citing the June 2013 strike-down of DOMA, had urged the 9th Circuit Court to extend the protections to gay and lesbian people being considered for federal jury pools.