Justice for All in the Courtroom

Summary

The goal of the jury selection process in both civil and criminal proceedings is to seat an impartial jury. Longstanding processes and procedures are followed to ensure that a trial is fair for the two opposing parties. The Supreme Court decision in Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co. (1991), however, wasn’t about a violation related to either party’s constitutional rights; it was about the rights of prospective jurors. Constitutional protections apply to the rights of all private individuals in a courtroom, including prospective jurors.

Before Edmonson, the law only prevented race-based peremptory challenges in criminal trials. With Edmonson, the Court extended the prohibition to civil trials. “Racial discrimination,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the opinion of the Court, “has no place in the courtroom, whether the proceeding is civil or criminal.” It threatens the fairness and impartiality of the proceedings and violates equal protection principles.

In this lesson, students analyze the interplay of processes and procedures that courts use to seat an impartial jury and gain appreciation for the essential role of juries in the justice system. They also explore the responsibilities and limits placed on government by the Constitution in the context of civil and criminal trials.

The estimated time of this lesson is four class periods. It is aligned to the National Standards for Civics and Government.

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