SHAHEEN, COLLINS URGE SENATE COMMITTEE TO ACT ON BILL BANNING LGBT DISCRIMINATION DURING JURY SELECTION PROCESS

Senators say federal court ruling underscores need to pass bipartisan Jury ACCESS Act

January 29, 2014

(Washington, DC) – Citing a need to ban discrimination in the judicial system, today U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to promptly consider their bipartisan Jury ACCESS (Access for Capable Citizens and Equality in Service Selection) Act that would ban discrimination in jury selection. Shaheen and Collins’ letter comes on the heels of a unanimous 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision holding that jurors could not be excluded on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Jury service is a fundamental right and obligation of every American citizen, and there is no place for discrimination in our judicial system,” Shaheen and Collins wrote.

“The Ninth Circuit’s ruling demonstrates the need to pass the Jury ACCESS Act and provide a clear statutory prohibition to prevent such discrimination in jury selection once and for all,” the Senators continued. “Our country is seeing dramatic advancement in protections for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens, and the federal judicial system should be part of that progress.”

While United States Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and economic status during jury selection in federal courts, it does not, prohibit discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Jury ACCESS Act, sponsored by Senators Shaheen and Collins as well as Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Patty Murray (D-WA), would amend the federal statute to prohibit the practice of striking jurors in federal courts on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee included the bipartisan JURY Access Act in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014. The unanimous 9th Circuit Court ruling broke new legal ground in holding that sexual orientation deserves the same strong legal protections in jury selection as other categories, citing the Supreme Court's decision last year striking down a federal law denying federal benefits to married same-sex couples.

The full text of Shaheen and Collins’ letter to the Judiciary Committee is below.

January 29, 2014

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Chairman
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building       
Washington, DC 20510      


The Honorable Chuck Grassley
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Grassley,

We write to request that the Senate Judiciary Committee promptly consider S. 38, the Jury Access for Capable Citizens and Equality in Service Selection (ACCESS) Act, a bill to ensure that no Americans can be banned from serving on a federal jury because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Jury service is a fundamental right and obligation of every American citizen, and there is no place for discrimination in our judicial system.  On January 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed this principle in SmithKline Beecham Corporation v. Abbott Laboratories, holding that it is discriminatory for a juror to be excluded on the basis of sexual orientation.  The Court noted that jury exclusion of this nature “deprive(s) individuals of the opportunity to participate in perfecting democracy and guarding our ideals of justice on account of a characteristic that has nothing to do with their fitness to serve.”

As you know, the United States Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and economic status during jury selection in federal court proceedings.  There is no federal prohibition, however, against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling demonstrates the need to pass the Jury ACCESS Act and provide a clear statutory prohibition to prevent such discrimination in jury selection once and for all.  Our country is seeing dramatic advancement in protections for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens, and the federal judicial system should be part of that progress. 

Thank you for your consideration of this request. 

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen             

United States Senator

Susan Collins

United States Senator