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Shaheen, Collins Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Prohibit LGBT Discrimination In Jury Selection Process

(Washington, DC) – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) reintroduced the Jury Access for Capable Citizens and Equality in Service Selection (ACCESS) Act, which would prevent discrimination against LGBT citizens during the federal jury selection process. The bipartisan bill would prohibit discrimination against jurors in federal courts on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives today by Representative Susan Davis (CA-53).  

“Discrimination in any form should not be tolerated, and that is especially true in our justice system,” said Senator Shaheen. “Any sort of bias that penalizes potential jurors because of their sexual orientation or gender identity runs counter to our nation’s values. This bipartisan bill will help ensure all Americans can fulfill their civic duty and participate in the judicial process, free of prejudice.” 

“Serving on a jury is a fundamental right and obligation that no individuals should be prohibited from fulfilling based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Senator Collins.  “I have long worked to fight discrimination, and I am proud to join this effort to eliminate bias from our judicial system.” 

“The words above our Supreme Court say: ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’” said Rep. Susan Davis. “Yet LGBT Americans can be blocked from serving on a jury because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination has no place in our country, and certainly not in our judicial system.” 

Prior to the start of a trial, potential jurors come to the courtroom and the judge and attorneys begin a process to select who will sit on the jury and determine the facts of a case.  The purpose is to arrive at a jury panel that will be fair and impartial. This process involves asking the jurors questions about themselves and their experiences to discern whether they might harbor prejudices or hold strong opinions that would prevent an objective evaluation of the facts.

The United States Code currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and economic status.  However, there is no federal prohibition on discriminating against jurors based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only eleven states prohibit exclusion from jury service in state court based on sexual orientation and just six protect against discrimination based on gender identity.  The Jury ACCESS Act would amend federal statute to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” meaning that striking jurors on that basis would be prohibited under federal law for the first time.  

The Jury ACCESS Act is endorsed by numerous civil liberty groups and other organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, Family Equality Council, National LGBT Bar Association, ACLU, Lambda Legal, Anti-Defamation League, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Alliance for Justice, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.  

The Jury ACCESS Act is also cosponsored by Senators Hassan (D-NH), Baldwin (D-WI), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Duckworth (D-IL), Harris (D-CA), Markey (D-MA), Murray (D-WA), Sanders (I-VT), Whitehouse (D-RI), Carper (D-DE) and Gillibrand (D-NY). The bill text is available here.