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ADL Welcomes Precedent-Setting Decision by N.Y. Court of Appeal’s That Skin Color Discrimination in Jury Selection is Unlawful

  • December 27, 2016

New York, NY, December 27, 2016 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) welcomed  a decision by the New York Court of Appeals recognizing that excluding an individual from a jury based on skin color is prohibited under Batson v. Kentucky, the New York State Equal Protection Clause, and New York State Civil Rights Law.

This is the first time the highest court in a state has recognized skin color – as distinguished from race – as a basis for challenging the exclusion of a juror under Batson. In People v. Bridgeforth, which was decided on December 22, the prosecutor had excluded all of the dark-skinned women from the jury and failed to provide a neutral explanation for striking one of these individuals, a dark-skinned Indian-American woman. ADL joined a broad coalition of legal associations, legal experts and nonprofit groups on an amicus brief in this case urging the New York Court of Appeals to expressly apply Batson to discrimination in jury selection based on skin color.

“We welcome the decision by the state’s highest court that discrimination based on skin color in jury selection undermines rights to equal protection under the law, including the right to a fair and impartial trial,” said Evan R. Bernstein, ADL New York Regional Director. “In so doing, the Court recognized that discrimination on the basis of one’s skin color has been well researched and documented, and that skin color is a status that implicates equal protection concerns, including invidious discrimination in excluding people from a jury.

“This decision represents an important step towards ensuring the integrity of our criminal justice system, and as the Court held, reaffirming that the jury be an ‘instrument of public justice’ that is ‘truly representative of the community,’” Mr. Bernstein said.

The U.S. Supreme Court previously held in the seminal case Batson v. Kennedy that a prosecutor who exercises a peremptory strike raising an interference of racial discrimination must provide a neutral explanation for the strike.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.  Follow us on Twitter: @ADL_NY